It would have been easy, Jessica Herbert surmises today, to return home after her devastating diagnosis, shut the door and wait for the end to arrive. But the pregnant mom of two has taken another tactic since she discovered in December that she has an inoperable brain tumor and an estimated 18 months to live.
“I’ve decided that when it comes to healing and recovery, a positive attitude is what counts,” Herbert, 30, of Springville, Utah, tells PEOPLE. “I can sit in my bedroom and cry about it or I can try to be as upbeat as possible for my children and husband. None of us are invincible, but I can’t go to ‘what if’ just yet. I’m still in a fight here.”
Herbert, a stay-at-home mom who will be induced on July 17 to deliver her third daughter (the baby will join Harlow, 5, and Harper, 3), has inspired hundreds of friends and strangers to donate nearly $17,000 thus far to a You Caring fundraiser with the goal of sending her family overseas on a dream vacation before her cancer progresses.
“She’s a mother, a sister, a daughter and a friend,” says Herbert’s sister-in-law, Lindsey Jones, 34, of San Clemente, California, who started the fundraiser, “but mostly, she’s a light in our lives and she’s a fighter. Right now, she’s fighting for the time she has with her family.”
Because her daughter, Harlow, is obsessed with Paris, Herbert says the family is hoping to take a vacation to France soon.
“I want to be the one to take her there,” she says. “I want all of us to go together and take a lot of pictures and videos so that even if my girls don’t remember the trip, they’ll have a way to experience it again when later on. Quality time – that’s where my focus is – I want to create as many memories as I can.”
Herbert’s battle for her life began last December after she learned that she and her husband, Eric, 31, a warehouse manager, were expecting their third child.
“I’d been having headaches and thought they were just related to the pregnancy,” she tells PEOPLE. “Then in early March, while I was sleeping, I had a seizure and started foaming at the mouth. My husband dialed 911 and I was taken to the hospital where they found a huge mass on the right side of my brain.”
Herbert was told that her cancer, anaplastic astrocytoma was rare and inoperable, with doctors predicting that she had 12 to 18 months to live.
“It was pretty hard to accept, knowing that I have young children and this terrible prognosis,” she says. “Absolutely, there were days – and still are days – when I shut the door and break down, realizing what could happen. Then I process that, wipe the tears away and get going. I don’t want my girls to have to worry about this.”
Eric Herbert says that he is inspired by his wife’s courage and has spent many restless nights watching Jessica sleep, worried that she is going to have another seizure.
“The thought that my best friend and soulmate could be taken from me breaks my heart,” he tells PEOPLE, “but we will not give up at any point, ever. We are going to fight this thing with all that we have.”
Once her baby is delivered, Herbert will undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment in the hope that her tumor won’t grow any larger.
“It isn’t curable, but it’s treatable,” she says. “So I’m holding on to that. If I can leave anything to my husband and kids, I want it to be that I am happy and positive, with an enthusiasm for life. I have to have faith that things happen in life for a reason.”