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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ulatowski

The Blended Bunch: Erica Shemwell's Son Diagnosed With Cancer After Li-Fraumeni Syndrome Diagnosis

The Blended Bunch ran for one season on TLC after premiering on March 16, 2021, before it was canceled by the network. The reality TV series follows Erica and Spencer Shemwell, two widowed parents with kids who got married and blended their families. Erica had seven children with her late husband, Tony, while Spencer had four children with his late wife, Aimee. Erica and Spencer met in a widow/widower supporter group and the rest was history.

Despite being off the air, the Shemwell family has continued to share updates about their blended lifestyle. However, their story took a tragic turn in December of 2022 when Erica and Spencer announced that their youngest son had terminal brain cancer. While the news is tragic and we are all heartbroken for Caleb and his family, unfortunately, his diagnosis was predictable due to the questionable choices of Erica and Tony.

What is Caleb Shemwell's diagnosis?

News of Caleb's cancer diagnosis spread on December 2022, after a Facebook post by Spencer started circulating. The post was written by Erica and reshared publicly by Spencer. Other TLC families, like the Derricos, re-shared the post in support of the family. Spencer explained that Caleb was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). DIPG is one of the most devastating diagnoses a family can receive, as it is an extremely aggressive form of brain cancer that primarily impacts children ages 5 - 9. Its location in the brain stem means it is inoperable and comes with a survival rate of nearly 0%. The median survival time from diagnosis is 8 - 11 months with treatment. Spencer confirmed in his post that Caleb's tumor was terminal, but that Caleb would be undergoing radiation and chemotherapy in hopes of prolonging his life.

Spencer and Erica went on to write about the family's response to the diagnosis. What was especially heartbreaking is that Erica's husband, and father to all 7 of her children, died from brain cancer. As a result, Caleb's diagnosis has been especially triggering and traumatizing for the 10 siblings, the oldest of whom understand the details of his terminal illness.

Several media outlets have reported on the Shemwell family's efforts to raise awareness and funds for research on childhood cancer. The family reportedly held a fundraiser at an elementary school as part of their efforts. However, they acknowledged that the work they are doing likely won't benefit Caleb. He was diagnosed on November 1, 2022, and while they hope he may be within the 1% - 5% who live longer than a year, they understand he may not have much time left. They indicated an interest in raising hope for other families in their situation, though.

Why Caleb Shemwell's diagnosis is so frustrating

DIPG is a tragic diagnosis that one would not wish on anyone else and, while the Shemwells are in need of our deepest sympathy, many are afraid to address the elephant in the room. The fact is, Caleb's diagnosis was predictable, making its fruition so much more frustrating and infuriating. Years before his diagnosis, The Blended Bunch sparked controversy when it was revealed in season 1 episode 3, "Step Kid Swap," that four of Erica's and Tony's children have Li-Fraumeni Syndrome.

The reason this was controversial and shocking, was that Tony was diagnosed with cancer around 2008. When he was diagnosed with brain cancer, he also discovered he had Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, an inherited genetic disease that makes one predisposed to developing cancer in their lifetime, especially during childhood and youth. Meanwhile, Tony and Erica only had one child before they learned of Tony's Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. Knowing that their children had a strong chance of inheriting Tony's Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, they went on to have six more children. Of their seven children, four were ultimately diagnosed with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, including Caleb.

Viewers, and even Erica's own brother, Quinn, expressed shock at why Erica and Tony would decide to continue reproducing knowing that they could subject their kids to the same amount of pain that Tony experienced and Erica witnessed firsthand. Tony fought brain cancer for 8 years before his passing, with his children and wife witnessing his deteriorating condition, weakness, and facial paralysis, in those final years. Erica's excuse for birthing six more children, half of whom would be diagnosed with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, after learning of her husband's genetic condition, was that they relied on "faith." She also said no parent can guarantee their kids' safety and they didn't want to live in fear.

Erica illustrates the selfishness of reproducing by "faith"

Erica expressed a firm belief that she was excused from any responsibility regarding her children and their health and futures because she was living in "faith." However, the truth of it is she knew her husband had Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. She knew that individuals born with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome have a 90% - 95% chance of developing cancer in their lifetime. She knew that females, like her oldest daughter, born with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome have a nearly 100% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. With these statistics and odds, she knew she was dooming several of her children to a fight with cancer in their lifetimes or even death by cancer.

Not only that, but she was setting her entire family up for a lifetime of tragedy and trauma. All seven of her kids watched her husband die after a long, painful battle with cancer. Now, they will watch their five-year-old brother face a similar battle. Her surviving three children with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome will wonder each day when their cancer diagnosis will arrive and what age they might survive until. The children without Li-Fraumeni Syndrome will wonder how many siblings they'll have to watch die during their lifetime. Erica is using the word faith in place of "selfishness." She, like many religious mothers/fathers, decided that she needed to have as many children as possible, caring nothing for their health and livelihoods—only in adhering to the twisted ideologies of reproduction enforced by her religion.

While Caleb's diagnosis is tragic, most viewers predicted a similar outcome for one of Erica's children years ago, so it's impossible that she didn't. The consequences of her selfishness and horrific ideology were brought to the forefront because of her reality show. However, many similar situations are taking place across the globe with little awareness. The Daugh Fam on TikTok immediately began expecting another child before they even received a confirmed diagnosis for their son's extremely rare genetic condition, members of the YouTube vlogging family, The Griffins, recalled birthing children despite having no means to provide for their family, and my own mother went on to have five children after her firstborn was born with a severe developmental disability 30 years ago—when the doctors knew next to nothing of his condition or if it was genetic.

It's not inspiring. It's not a display of faith. It most certainly is not "God's will" to bring a child into this world who you know will suffer or who you don't know if you can even provide for or keep alive. It's selfish, it's depraved, and it's unforgivable. It's also unnecessary. If "God" wants you to have 20 kids, well, there are plenty of kids for you in the world. 153 million children globally are orphaned and 3 million are in foster care—go adopt, foster, and save a child who desperately needs you. The fact that these parents refuse to foster and adopt and instead insist on squeezing out 6 - 20 children shows that it isn't actually about parenthood, raising children, or bringing good people into the world. For many of these families, reproducing is just a compulsion or obsession to feed one's ego and twisted religious ideology.

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