Days to weeks, months, or years?

I was first diagnosed with early stage cervical cancer in October 2012; I was only stage 1b2.  I was supposed to have a surgery and be finished with cancer.  It was supposed to be a one-time concern, no chemo, radiation, or additional treatment.  I was supposed to be okay.  Guess what?  Things don’t always work out the way they are supposed to.

In 2014, I had my first recurrence.  The doctor was optimistic we could treat the cancer and get rid of it, if we attacked it aggressively.  So, I went through multiple types of chemo and external radiation.  I had a PET scan which showed I was cancer free.  I could go back to my life.  However, that was short lived.  Three short months later I had a routine follow up scan and we found that the cancer was back and had metastasized.

In 2015, when I was diagnosed with my second recurrence, it was deemed that I was incurable.  I would live my life with cancer.  I would live knowing that my cancer would never go away.  It is something that is hard to comprehend.  Honestly, I still have family and friends who just don’t get it.  They still think that any time I go in for a checkup or scan we are going to hear that I am cancer free.  It is hard to have to continue to explain to them that the cancer isn’t going away.

Last month I had a PET scan to see how the cancer was progressing.  I shared out publicly that I was going to be having the scan.  I received a lot of encouragement via social media and there were still people who were hoping for a clear scan.  I was just hoping for a scan that showed the cancer had not spread into new areas.  Unfortunately, what I hoped for is not what happened.  My scan showed that my cancer had grown and spread.  The scan showed an increased size of the mass in my pelvis (involving the rectum) and on my supraclavicular lymph node (near my clavicle).  Additionally, there are new growths:  one in my neck, one on my trachea, and multiple on my liver.  This is not what I wanted to hear.

Meeting with the doctor was the next step after my PET scan.  I had a few days between my scan and my appointment to sort through things mentally.  When I met with the doctor we went through all of the treatments we have tried previously:  surgery (twice), Carbo/Taxol/Avastin, Cistplatin, external radiation, Avastin alone, Carbo/Taxol (again), Topetecan, clinical trial immunotherapy CX-072, Carbo/Taxol (again).  As you can see we have tried many options.  These options are not without side effects.  They are not easy.  Many times, these treatments would result in me having to be placed in the hospital for multiple days due to complications, infections, and blood transfusions.

Taking all of this information into account the conversation with my doctor moved to determining what we should do next.  How do we treat this incurable cancer?  Well, the answer is that it might be time that we don’t treat it.  We have exhausted our options.  At this point the treatments could shorten my life instead of extending it.  The treatments would absolutely reduce my quality of life, as proven by my many hospital stays.  I am a 33-year-old mother and wife.  Although I am not ready to die I know that I do not want to spend my remaining days ill in the hospital due to treatments. 

As we continued this conversation my husband brought up the idea of an immunotherapy which was recently approved for cervical cancer:  Keytruda.  My gynecologic oncologist said that it was an option, but it would not be without side effects.  We would also need to do a biopsy to see if I was a carrier of a certain tumor marker to determine if it was a treatment which would be a viable option.  I will be having my biopsy soon.  This treatment isn’t something that would cure the cancer, but, maybe it could slow it down.

One of the hardest parts of the conversation with my doctor was when I asked something I always said I would never ask: “How long can I live if we don’t do treatment?”  I never asked because I really didn’t want to know before, however, I felt like at this point it was a key piece of information when deciding what to do moving forward.  Dr. Callahan said he liked to break down the answer into three parts: days to weeks, months, or years.  We discussed that I am not at the days to weeks point, but, I am not in the years category either.  Imagine that.  Picture sitting in your doctor’s office as a 33-year-old wife and mother hearing that you are going to die without treatment within a year.  Remember that as you

are sitting there you know you have exhausted your treatment options and the best way to have a fulfilling quality of life is to stop treatment.

Honestly, I fully expected to hear that the recommendation was no further treatment.  I am pretty well versed in cervical cancer at this point; I have been dealing with it for over six years and have been advocating for awareness much of that time.  I have spoken with specialists from around the world.  Met fellow patients from around the world.  I have attended funerals of friends who were in the same situation I now find myself in.  I knew what was coming; I knew we were out of options.  It is never easy to hear though.

This was a hard message to share out publicly.  I have had to mentally prepare myself for the responses.  There are people who are going to push me to find religion.  There are people who think they are experts and know how to cure cancer without standard treatment.  There are also those individuals who will still think I will be okay.  It is hard to break the news to people.  I know people want to help but don’t know what to say.  I don’t know what to ask for.  It is challenging all around.  As far as the time I have left goes, I am going to continue living my life until I’m gone.  I hope you will join me!

Erica Frazier Stum

28 thoughts on “Days to weeks, months, or years?

  1. You are so very loved, Erica. Fingers crossed that keytruda is an option for you to live your life comfortably with your beautiful family.

  2. With you, Erica, in love and the light that you shine each day…holding you in that space and letting you know you are seen.

  3. You have made a difference. I appreciate how brave you are and how hard this has to be. I wish I knew more of what to say, but you saw that coming too. I am lucky to know you. 🙂

  4. Erica I am with you and will continue the fight for education/prevention/screening. You are my inspiration and I will do all I can Legislatively and personally. You have inspired me in a way that I will never forget! All my love and admiration to you and your family.

  5. You are truly an inspiration Erica. You are a fighter and such a strong woman. I admire you. You are amazing.

  6. Thank You so much for sharing your story, Erica. Although I can only relate to your experience in 2012, your journey is truly reminder that nothing in life should be taken for granted. Thank You for being an inspiration!

  7. Erica, I have followed you on FB and shared your story on Our Yellow Umbrella FB page. I have worked with Christine Baze for the last 8 years increasing awareness and empowering women with the tools to fight this disease. We also work to increase the uptake of the HPV vaccine in rural communities. We will continue our fight for you and all you have gone through. ??

  8. Erica I don’t know what to say except you are truly amazing, you have been so strong. I will continue to pray for you and your family.

  9. Erica I don’t know what to say except you are truly amazing, you have been so strong. I will continue to pray for you and your family.

  10. Erica
    I admire the strength and courage you have shared. You and your family deserve to live each day if it were your last. Make beautiful memories! You are always in my thoughts and prayers. Shine on!

  11. Where do I begin…. I guess somewhere at the beginning. From mcdonalds bday parties, tumbleweed, Scribner, VC with Mr. Hillegas from Mr. Burnham and Jenny, you sending me into labor w/ Damion at open house, to open and closing ceremonies in our ugly red jackets, and the car rides coming back home from Indy, you have always been someone that I looked up to and admired. Even though we arent as close as we used to be I hope you know that I love you and I wouldn’t be the person I am today if you hadnt of pushed me to always give my best and showed me that I could do anything. Growing up with you as one of my best friends was truly a blessing. Sorry didnt mean to get all sappy on you. I just wanted you to know how much I love you and how much our friendship has meant to me over the years.

  12. I’m glad I read your testimony of your Cervical Cancer journey, I’m 46 yrs old and I’m into my 3rd recurrence and am scared and not ready to leave this life, you’ve inspired me, thank you for the share, truly thank you

  13. Erica, you are one of the most brave, courageous, strong women I have ever met. I’m not very good at saying it, but you guys are in my thoughts everyday! I’m here, if I can do anything! Sending hugs. ?❤️

  14. Erica, I feel blessed to know you and no matter what the future brings I want you to know how many eyes you have opened to cervical cancer awareness, how many hearts you have touched with your words, and the differences that you have made to some many people’s lives with all of your shared moments along your journey. You are an amazing mom and have created so many great moments with your husband and son for them to cherish for a lifetime and continue to fill that bucket list as long as you want to!! Sending you hugs and caring thoughts!! One of my most memorable moments in my life is the multi-state in one day/night adventure that I had with you and the ladies!! Oh what an adventure that was and brings a smile to my face when I think about it!!

  15. Erica, you have been in my thoughts and prayers every day. I know a lot of people say call me and I can come and help you some of them meen it and some don’t. You know what I’m going through right now and I do have time on my hand. I would absolutely love to be able to come over and visit, help you with daily things, take you to a doctor’s appointment, just spend time with you, come fix you meals, do laundry (I love doing laundry) whatever you need done I would love to be there to help you and the JR, ,& Wiley out with anything even cleaning toilets. Please keep me in mind and I’ll do the same. I love you, JR and Wiley this is what family is for. Please let me help you.

  16. What a powerful story of fighting for awareness, prevention and education your life is. What an amazing legacy you have established. Wishing you and your sweet family much peace and joy as you live every rich minute to its fullest. You are an inspiration, although you never set out to be. You continue to impact many. You remain in my prayers.

  17. I admire your openness, I am proud of your courage, and I am thinking of you more often than I share. You are an amazing human being. My love to you and your family.

  18. I admire your openness, I am proud of your courage, and I think of you more often than I share. My love to you and your family.

  19. Dear Erica. I ask Holly about you when I see her. I think of you often. You have been such an inspiration. My prayers are that you continue to fight this awful disease. Your smile is beautiful. My prayers for you and your family.

    Karen Hupp

  20. There are no words so I won’t even try. Let’s get Kevin off the couch and tear up the town. Any time you’re feeling it I will be your wing man. We can escape room, Topgolf, shop, spa, movie, play, musical, karaoke, hot tub (my best friends have one—any time) ice skate, eat, drink, be merry, be stupid…WHATEVER! Wanna go back to Maui? I’m going Jan 22 and would love to have you join me!

  21. Dear Erica,
    I just finished reading your poignant life story. I am happy that you were able to become a wife and mother.; that you have experienced so much love of family, friends and people reading your journey attests that you have always been wise beyond your years. You and yours have created a story that shows your strength and courage and yes, how frightening this can be as well. You will leave an indelible mark upon your daughter who will never forget you. I know this because my daughter went through this at 33. You and she will live forever… my love to you…?

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