Today marks what should have been Cervivor Ambassador Erica Frazier Stum’s 35th birthday.
She died December 27th, 2018 from cervical cancer. Yet her passion, her fight, and her spirit live on in Cervivor. Her zest for life, and her never backing down when things get tough, live on in me and in so many of us in the Cervivor community.
Erica told me many times that she did not believe in an afterlife. She believed in THIS life. Even when she was losing hers. Even when cancer was taking her away from us bit by bit, she was living her life and sharing her story. In fact, she created for herself a “living life list” – deliberately not calling it a “bucket list” but rather an active, living and breathing list of experiences she wanted to have and things she wanted to do in what she knew would be a final chapter in her young life.
She did not get to complete all of the items on her living life list. But in me, in you and in Cervivor, her work continues. Her story, her heart and her passion are in the very fiber of what we do at Cervivor each time we support each other, each time we educate, and each time we share our stories. For me, Erica is not physically here…but she is entirely present.
I wrote Erica a birthday letter today and decided to share it with our Cervivor community. Those of you who knew her may share in my thoughts and reflections. Those who are dealing with cervical cancer or its aftermath can, I hope, take comfort in her story. Those of you who have lost a loved one can I hope share in the appreciation that our loved ones are still with us, even when they are gone.
Erica would not like the use of terms like “battle” and “lost.” She would not tell you that she was a “fighter.” In her mind, she was simply a “life liver.” She lived with purpose and meaning and passion. ” I tried to do my best to honor her in that way. This is for you, Erica.
I remember meeting you. We were in touch via email at first. You were preparing to head to our Cervivor School in San Diego in September 2015. You were sick. I told you not to come, as I was concerned about you getting on a plane. You came anyway. You couldn’t stay away – despite or because of everything, you wanted to more directly engage in our work and our mission. You challenged me. You challenged yourself. You challenged the world. And you changed it. By the end of 2016, you’d attended four Cervivor Schools – to not only keep honing your own advocacy and story-sharing skills, but to serve as a mentor to other Cervivors. In the midst of dealing with this disease, you became our Lead Cervivor Ambassador. You became one of our most dedicated patient advocates.
While fighting to end cervical cancer, you were losing your life to it. Yet, even when your diagnosis was clear that the cancer was terminal, you shared, you educated and you advocated. You did this from home, from your hospital bed and then ultimately, from your hospice bed. In your life and in death, you are a testament to why our work matters.
Erica, you would be so proud of Cervivor and all of the work we are doing as a community. Despite this pandemic, we’ve creatively found new ways to connect, educate and support each other. (You would have been all over the virtual scavenger hunts!) You would be so proud of your family. Your husband JR has shared your story and motivated so many to get the HPV vaccine for themselves and their children. Your parents and siblings remain actively engaged with us, hosting fundraisers and donning teal and white on Tuesdays then sharing posts on social media to inspire and educate. Your closest friends have shown up in so many ways. Gretchen even got the HPV vaccine. And, yes, they are on message! Mallory makes sure of that. And Wylee. Your son. He’s so big now. You would be so proud.
Erica, you would be devastated to know that cervical cancer still takes its toll. That women here in the U.S. and around the world are still losing their fertility – and their lives – to this entirely preventable cancer. I know you would be angry as hell. And I know that frustration would fuel you to action. I know you would remind all of us to keep going, and keep educating, sharing and advocating and never give up, no matter how sick and tired (literally and figuratively) we might be.
You’d be proud of our recent Cervivor School graduates, our Cervivor Ambassadors, our story-sharers, and the members of our online communities who post and share and support in an ongoing conversation that serves as a lifeline for so many of us. There is so much of you in each of them. In all of us.
You are not physically here, but your story, your words, and your message is still comforting people, educating people, changing hearts and saving lives. We miss you.
I miss you.
Join me in honoring Erica today by creating – or adding to – your own living life list. She’d want us to live fully, embrace new experiences, tackle challenges, support each other, and plug into our skills and passions to end cervical cancer.
Happy Birthday, Erica.