Erica Shemwell is carrying a heavy weight. The star of the new TLC series The Blended Bunch already lost her first husband, Tony, to brain cancer. And in the March 30 episode of the reality show, she revealed more heartbreaking news. Four of Erica’s seven children with Tony have Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which means they are also predisposed to cancer.
Erica Shemwell of ‘The Blended Bunch’ opens up about her fears for her children
“Once we found out Tony tested positive for brain cancer, that’s when we found he had a rare genetic mutation called Li-Fraumeni syndrome,” Erica explained on The Blended Bunch.
“Basically what that means is, everyone has two cancer fighters,” she went on to say. “In Tony’s case, he only had one.”
The mutation meant that Tony had a greatly increased risk of getting cancer. Not only that, but several of Erica and Tony’s children also have the mutation.
Landon, 12; Emma, 10; Sophie, 8; and Caleb, 3 all have Li-Fraumeni syndrome. In the episode, Erica has to take them in for their yearly cancer screenings.
“It’s an unexpected burden that people have no idea that I’m carrying,” Erica said. “I worry about these four kids and their health. That’s hard and there’s not a lot of people you can talk with that can empathize with you.”
Erica’s husband Spencer says he worries about the kids getting cancer
Speaking with her brother Quinn, Erica revealed that she also struggles with how to talk to her children about their increased cancer risk. “With the kids, I don’t want to talk about it on an adult level, because I don’t think they’re at the emotional capacity to even think about their own mortality,” she explained. “That would be really heavy for a kid to have to deal with.”
Erica also worries about her second husband, Spencer. While he’s aware of her kids’ increased cancer risk, he doesn’t have a personal experience dealing with cancer. Spencer admits a cancer diagnosis for one of the children would be “new territory” for him. “It does scare me,” he said. “It’s really hard to wrap my mind around potentially losing one of the kids.”
What is Li-Fraumeni syndrome?
If you haven’t heard of Li-Fraumeni syndrome, you’re not alone. But the rare genetic condition “has decimated families with early cancer deaths,” Jennifer Perry, president of the LFS Association, told Showbiz Cheat Sheet via email.
“LFS carriers have an approximately 50 percent chance of developing cancer by age 40, and up to a 90 percent by age 60,” Perry explained. “Women have almost a 100 percent chance of developing cancer due to the markedly increased risk of breast cancer.”
Children born to a parent with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome have a 50 percent chance of also having the mutation. Of kids with LFS, 40 percen will have at least one cancer by the time they are 18 years old.
“Though still considered rare, accessibility to genetic testing has revealed that more and more people are carriers, with no family history of cancer,” Perry shared. If a person is diagnosed with cancer, knowing that they have Li-Fraumeni syndrome can affect their treatment plan. Plus, if testing reveals that a person is an LFS carrier, they “can take proactive measures such as lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing cancers and participate in early detection screening to best improve treatment outcomes,” she said.
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