The Blended Bunch: Erica Worries as 4 of Her Children Have Same Rare Syndrome Her Late Husband Had
TLC star Erica Shemwell's late husband Tony had Li-Fraumeni syndrome, a rare syndrome in which patients are predisposed to cancer
The Blended Bunch star Erica Shemwell is doing everything she can to care for her children.
In PEOPLE's exclusive sneak peek at Tuesday's episode of the TLC series, Erica, 33, explains that four of her seven children have the same rare syndrome — Li-Fraumeni syndrome — that their late father, Tony Means, had before he died from cancer in December 2016. (Erica and Tony shared Landon, 12, Emma, 10, Lily, 9, Sophie, 8, Tanner, 6, Amelia, 5, and Caleb, 3.)
"About three and a half years ago, I was widowed from my husband Tony," Erica tells viewers. "Tony 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."
"Basically what that means is everybody has two cancer fighters and in Tony's case, he only has one," she continues. "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 as a child."
According to the Li-Fraumeni Syndrome Association, LFS is "an inherited familial predisposition to a wide range of certain, often rare, cancers."
Knowing that four of her children — Landon, Emma, Sophie and Caleb — have tested positive for LFS and have a higher chance of getting cancer is an "unexpected burden" that Erica carries.
"It's an unexpected burden that people have no idea that I'm carrying, that I worry about these four kids and their health," she says. "That's hard. There's not a lot of people you can talk with that can empathize with you."
In the car with her brother Quinn, Erica admits that "it's been tough lately" — having to take her children to get their annual MRI screenings done to check for cancer cells.
And once she gets the results, she hopes "things may get easier after that."
"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," she tells Quinn.
But Quinn doesn't want his sister to struggle alone, and points out that her husband, Spencer, is "not a child."
Like Erica, Spencer is also widowed and lost his first spouse, Aimee — with whom he shared Brayden, 12, Harper, 8, Avery, 6, and Bexley, 4 — in a car crash.
Following their devastating losses, Erica and Spencer met via an online widower support group, where their love story began. After 13 months, the couple said "I do."
Knowing that Erica is struggling internally, Quinn wants his sister to tell Spencer about her feelings.
"I hope she tells Spencer ASAP the seriousness of what she's feeling and what she's going through," he says. "Because it's critical to Erica's wellbeing, to her children's wellbeing, to their relationship."
The Blended Bunch airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on TLC.
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