I Miss Her Everyday

Erica’s death was a day that I knew would come but it hit me harder than anything I could have ever imagined. Erica and I also prepared Wylee for that day and days after Mommy dies.

Erica believed in Living Life despite her diagnosis. That spilled over to her family life and she made sure that Wylee had his own incredible experiences and adventures — even at such a young age. We started him with counseling five years ago, but not just sitting on a couch talking about feelings. We were going out and living life, taking on new adventures and challenges. One of Wylee’s first solo adventures would be at Camp Kesem three years ago.

Camp Kesem is a youth camp for campers who have parents suffering with cancer. Wylee had just turned eight and had only slept over at family members houses. This camp was a five-day over-night camp where members of Ball State University are camp counselors. Erica and I have nicknames from our First Descents trip, an adult cancer camp, so Wylee was accustomed to the nicknaming process and after persuasion he finally went with Coyote!  

The Coyote that showed up at camp three years ago was so nervous but the Coyote I dropped off this week is so strong. He lives by the motto from his book, Living Life with Mommy’s Cancer, that “Everything Will Be Okay.” 

Before this camp, I had now had the parental responsibility that would normally default to Mommy. I went through the packing list with him. I went to the store and bought all the things — flashlight, bug spray, swim gear, clothes and of course crazy socks! Erica would be so proud! I invested a lot more into this week than I normally do. It meant so much to me that Coyote was going to be surrounded by love, surrounded by other children that understand and that he could feel comfortable to have conversations that his school friends just don’t understand. 

When I dropped Wylee off, I became teary eyed for the first time. If you knew Erica, she didn’t really cry. She never really seemed vulnerable and more often than not was controlling the situation or supporting someone else. I miss her. 

I think about Erica all the time. I notice it most when I want to tell her about my day or to see what dinner plans we have. I notice even more when I don’t have something planned for an upcoming weekend. I miss her checking in with her friends Tamika, Tripps and Hugo. Getting the skinny on their lives and what they are up to. That person that I loved and slept next to every night is gone but my memories of her have not faded. I love and will always love Erica Lee. The presence she left are visible within our son, Wylee. He has her blue eyes, her smile and wit. Her legacy will continue on with the gifts she has bestowed upon me.

Erica may be gone, but I see her everyday in Wylee and it’s how I know that everything will be okay.

JR Stum is a Cervivor supporter who lives in Indiana. He is often proudly sporting his Cervivor shades around town. JR honors his late wife, Erica, by sharing her story as often as possible and making sure that he and Wylee are out there Living Life.

Our Supporting Cast

There are so many healthcare members that make up a cancer patient’s medical team before, during and after treatment. You want an oncologist who is caring, a radiation team who’ll listen to your concerns and a chemotherapy PA who helps you navigate your side effects successfully. You may see these people more than your own family so you really want successful partnerships. You literally are putting your life in their hands and these people become your ‘Dream Team’.But what about those other everyday team members you see all too frequently during treatment. The unsung hero who’s name you may not always remember (thank you chemo fog) but they leave a lasting impression because they took the time to hear you and you connected with them

Like the receptionist at your infusion center who always has a smile and a kind hello for you. Maybe it’s the phlebotomist who knows your veins like the back of her own hand. Or the hospital nurse who gives you some of her lavender essential oil because it’s your third stay in the past two months. Or how about the diagnostic technician who looks just like Dr. McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy and it makes you blush. Every time.

These people become the extras in your own Lifetime movie. You talk about their fishing trip to a place you both know well, or you bond over the difficulty raising a tween. These connections and conversations helped me to forget for a moment why I was in that hospital bed or infusion center. These interactions made me feel ‘normal’ when everything else in my life was completely out of control. Just wanting things to be ‘normal’ is often what I craved the most.

One of my favorite moments was at my final chemotherapy session. It was a very long eight hour infusion, and I may have been the only patient left in the infusion center. I noticed there wasn’t a bell to ring like I saw so many patients do on social media. It seemed so anticlimactic — no drumroll or dancing unicorns? So I sat there holding my husband’s hand and we both got a bit teary.

Suddenly I had a kind of out-of-body experience and I started singing Semisonic’s Closing Time, and very badly I might add. “Closing time you don’t have to go home…” And then from across the room I hear my nurse belt out, “but ya can’t stay here.”  We all laughed through our tears and hugs were shared.

I recall this memory when I need a reminder that the world is filled with kindness, even in our darkest moments and that there are amazing nurses, doctors, healthcare providers that give 110% to all their patients. These are my heroes.

Carol Lacey is our Lead Cervivor Ambassador and has been advocating on behalf of Cervivor since 2016. Watch Carol share her story on CervivorTV.