TLC’s newest hit series, “The Blended Bunch,” features two families who have overcome numerous obstacles in their search for happiness. The Shemwell family and the Means clan were united through mom Erica and dad Spencer who married in November 2018, thereafter becoming “The Blended Bunch” and raising 11 children (via People).
The couple met after the deaths of their first spouses, Tony and Aimee. Erica and Spencer were involved in the same widow’s support group online. Spencer joined the online meetup a month after his late wife’s passing. The couple were drawn to one another as friends first. Only 13 months after going on their first date, Erica and Spencer wed, uniting their families.
Along with tending to 11 children ages 15 and under, Erica must face another significant worry about her kids, one that could pose a shift in their family dynamic. What is it that Erica Shemwell worries about most when it comes to her kids? Read on to find out.
Several of her seven biological children have a rare syndrome
Several of Erica and her late husband, Tony’s children, have Li-Fraumeni syndrome. This is a rare genetic mutation which affects one in 5,000 people according to Cancer.net. Four of Erica’s seven children have tested for this mutation: Landon, Emma, Sophie, and Caleb. Lily, Tanner, and Amelia do not have it.
The reality star explained Tony’s battle with the rare genetic syndrome. “About three and a half years ago, I was widowed by my husband, Tony. He had a long battle with cancer for eight years, so most of our marriage. Once we found out Tony tested positive for brain cancer, that’s when we found that he had a rare genetic mutation called Li-Fraumeni syndrome” (via People Magazine).
“What that means is everybody has two cancer fighters, and in Tony’s case, he only has one. People who have Li-Fraumeni have about a 95 to 99 percent chance of getting cancer in their lifetime. Generally, it’s young or a young adult or even a child,” she explained.
Li_Fraumeni syndrome in depth
Li-Fraumeni syndrome is a genetic mutation. “Those who carry this mutation have a higher risk of developing cancer. The cancers most frequently tied to Li-Fraumeni syndrome are breast cancer, osteosarcoma (a bone cancer), and cancer of the soft tissue (i.e., muscle) soft tissue sarcoma. This syndrome can also lead to brain tumors, leukemia, and adrenocortical carcinoma,” (via lfsassociation.org). “Those diagnosed with LFS have a 50% chance of developing cancer by the age of 40 and a 90% chance by the age of 60. Women who have this gene mutation can have up to a 90% risk for developing breast cancer.”
It does not mean that Erica’s children will most certainly develop the disease. However, their risks are substantially higher than those who do not have the gene mutation.
According to a post on the Shemwell Bunch blog, Erica explained that she and her current husband Spencer “educate, as appropriate to their age, all our children about LFS. They understand their condition, they are aware of ground breaking research, and they have a huge network of family and friends who are here for them. Through their LFS journey in life, they know they are never alone.”
Erica carries a significant burden of knowing her children could have future health struggles
There have been critics of the show who wondered if Erica knew her kids could inherit this syndrome, why would she continue to have more babies? In a Reddit post, fans discussed their feelings on the topic. These ranged from those who were angered by Erica and her late husband’s decision, to those who showed support for the couple.
In a post on The Shemwell Bunch blog, Erica explained the decision to have a large family knowing Tony’s underlying condition. “We understood the potential difficulties that any of our children who were positive for LFS would possibly face,” Erica wrote. “I really feel Tony understood to a greater degree how our kids would feel living with LFS because he lived 32 years with this condition. Once I asked Tony that if he knew he would die from brain cancer at 32 years, would he wish he never was born instead? In tears, he gently and confidently told me, ‘Of course not!’ He went on to say he was so thankful to his parents who brought him into this world and to his family for raising him. He experienced so much love, so much joy, so much of this incredible life on this earth. Why would he throw away 32 wonderful years because he died young?”
Erica addressed her critics in a blog post
Erica spoke directly to critics who found her reckless in continuing to have children who could be born with a genetic mutation that could lead to cancer. She wrote in a blog post, “It is only through our faith in God that has led us, guided us, comforted us, and lifted us. [Tony and I] We chose to have children even with the risks of LFS because we felt assured by God that it was right for our family. My faith in God also led me to know that marrying Spencer was the best choice for everyone in our family and many other choices in my life. Throughout the years, I have never felt as loved by God as I have during the difficult times my family has faced. He has never abandoned us and continues to lead our family today.”
While it has not yet been announced if the family is filming a second season for TLC, the Shemwell clan managed to rack up enough fans who are championing their unique story and are hopeful for another season on the network.
The children have yearly MRI's to make sure they remain healthy
Erica admitted to her brother Quinn during a latter episode in the season that she felt she did not have a lot of people she could talk to about her feelings regarding her children’s health.
She told him, “I’m struggling with trying to find the balance because with the kids, I don’t want to talk about it like, on an adult level because I don’t think they’re at the emotional capacity to even think about their own mortality yet. I think that would be really heavy for a young kid to have to deal with” (via People).
Erica told her sibling that it is “an unexpected burden that people have no idea that I’m carrying, that I worry about these four kids and their health.”
Erica and Spencer chose to unite their families by adopting one another’s children, a permanent seal on their love for one another and each other’s children. Erica blended her brood with Spencer’s kids: Brayden, Harper, Avery, and Bexley. Erica spoke about that particular day on her family blog. “When we adopted each others’ kids, we made an individual commitment to each child, promising we will always be there for them in the capacity a mother or father would be, with no reservations.”
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