TLC's newest reality show, The Blended Bunch, follows Erica and Spencer Shemwell and their large combined family of 11. Both Erica and Spencer lost their first spouses; Spencer lost his wife to a car accident, while Erica lost her husband to cancer. Their loss and trauma is explored in The Blended Bunch, along with life with kids who are still adapting to their new family, and Erica's brother's suspicions about Spencer's intentions.
While there's plenty of drama to follow, many are interested (and saddened) by Erica's story.
How did Erica Shemwell's first husband die?
33-year-old Erica Shemwell's first husband, Tony Means, died of brain cancer. He was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was 23, during the second year of his marriage with Erica. He beat cancer three times, but sadly succumbed to the disease in 2016.
What is Li-Fraumeni Syndrome?
Tony was diagnosed with the genetic disorder Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, which is where your body is missing one of the two cancer-fighting genes (TP53) people are born with. Those who suffer from this disease are more likely to get cancer and rare cancers at that. People who have Li-Fraumeni Syndrome aren't guaranteed to get cancer per se, but the odds are much, much higher.
"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," Erica explained.
Tony and Erica only found out that he carried the genetic mutation when he was diagnosed with cancer. "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," Erica said.
Some viewers of the show are conflicted about Erica and Tony's decision to have so many children when they not only knew that Tony could die of cancer early in their lives, but also that Li-Fraumeni Syndrome is a disorder that is genetically passed down to your offspring. And we already know that four out of seven of their children (Landon, Emma, Sophie, and Caleb) have tested positive for the disorder, which could mean a long road of pain suffering in their lives.
Which Erica does address. "It's an unexpected burden that people have no idea that I'm carrying, that I worry about these four kids and their health. That's hard. There's not a lot of people you can talk with that can empathize with you," Erica confesses. Erica takes all of her kids on monthly MRI screenings to watch for cancer, but that's the only preventative measure they can take.
On the show, Spencer is getting criticized for not supporting Erica enough (she goes on these monthly MRI screenings alone and suffers from panic attacks), and her biggest champion is her brother Quinn.
Quinn tells her she should open up to Spencer, and he also hopes that Spencer steps up. "I hope she tells Spencer ASAP the seriousness of what she's feeling and what she's going through. Because it's critical to Erica's wellbeing, to her children's wellbeing, to their relationship," Quinn says.
Watch new episodes of The Blended Bunch every Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on TLC.