Florida Brother and Sister Diagnosed with Same Cancer: 'It Felt Like Someone Hit Me in the Stomach,' Says Mom

"Liam is kicking cancer's butt, and Emma has no other option but to do the same," Lacey Smith tells PEOPLE

Photo: Courtesy Lacey Smith

When one of Will and Lacey Smith’s 2-year-old twins, Emma (a Frozen-fanatic and lover of all things pink and sparkly), was diagnosed with cancer in July, the devastated parents felt as if they were reliving a horrible nightmare.

Just two years prior, their older son, Liam, 5, was diagnosed with the exact same cancer – precursor B acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a debilitating disease most commonly found in children.

“When I told Liam his little sister had the same sickness as him, he went up to her and started giving her advice: ‘Emma don’t eat too many of the animal crackers they give you because your tummy will hurt. Emma there’s a chair in a hospital room that mom will let you spin on, even though you’re not supposed to. Emma always wash your hands because germs are bad and you can’t get sick when you have leukemia!’ ” Lacey, 32, tells PEOPLE. “He’s trying to stay strong for his sister, it’s adorable.”

The mother of three of Jacksonville Beach, Florida, is now faced with the possibility that Emma’s twin sister, Ella, could also develop leukemia – meaning all three of her children would have the same disease at the same time.

“When I found out about Emma’s diagnosis, it felt like someone had taken a cheap shot and hit me in the stomach,” she says. “But I quickly dried my eyes and haven’t cried since. This time, I know what to expect. Liam is kicking cancer’s butt, and Emma has no other option but to do the same. We just pray Ella won’t get it, too.”

Smith says Ella, whose personality couldn’t be more opposite from her identical twin (she likes climbing trees and rough-housing with her big brother), doesn’t understand why her siblings are so tired all the time – she only knows that her twin sister and “best friend” is “too sick to play.”

“I feel like I’m already preparing myself for Ella to get leukemia,” says Lacey. “But I’m like, if she’s going to be diagnosed, give it to us now, let them go through this together. I’m ready to stop checking no to RSVP birthday cards. I want my kids to socialize with other kids and live normally, not in fear.”

Dr. Scott Bradfield, Associate Division Chief at Nemours Children’s Specialty Care in Jacksonville, tells PEOPLE that his team of doctors were “caught off guard” with the idea that multiple children in one family could have the same type of cancer.

“We’ve never seen this,” says Dr. Bradfield. “You hear of twins getting the same kind of cancer, but with siblings? We just don’t know. We are trying to do more genetic testing to see if there’s some reason this is happening. I think it’s highly unlikely it’s an environmental factor, because at this point, we don’t know if that can cause leukemia.”

Bradfield thinks Liam and Emma’s identical diagnosis is “a horrible coincidence” that may have a genetic basis, and the Smith family should prepare for the possibility that Ella will develop leukemia in the near future.

“For identical twins, the likelihood the other will contract leukemia is 25 percent,” says Dr. Bradfield. “We can’t imagine being in that situation with all three children going through cancer under the age of 5. It’s too awful to think about.”

During this difficult time, Will and Lacey find strength in the undying support from their Florida community – weekly fundraising events are put on by a group of Lacey’s closest high school and college girlfriends, who call themselves the “Smith Strong Girls.”

Using the hashtag #SmithStrong, the circle of friends has helped to organize wine tasting events, jewelry trunk shows and a beach workout fundraiser to raise awareness and money for the Smith family.

On August 22, the 1st Annual Smith Strong Fundraiser Golf Tournament was held at the Jacksonville Beach Golf Club, which raised over $50,000 for the family as Emma begins chemotherapy treatments.

“When something like this happens to a good friend and her young children, you band together to do whatever you can to make her life easier,” Mary Claire Parsons, 32, a Smith Strong Girl, tells PEOPLE. “We can all feel her pain directly. We will help this family fight because that’s what best friends do.”

For now, Will and Lacey monitor Ella closely, looking daily for any signs of fatigue or bruising – symptoms her other two children displayed before their diagnoses – and bring her in for monthly checkups.

“We’ll get through this,” says Lacey. “We’re just a goofy family – we make forts and have Frozen dance parties and karaoke nights. We love to laugh. It sucks that we have to incorporate cancer into our lives, but we sure as hell are going to do it with a smile.”

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