Li-Fraumeni in the movies

by Andi Last  –  Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (LFS) has made it to the movies. Back in 2014, LFS was used in a plot line on the TV show, Grey’s Anatomy. Ann Ramer recapped the episode here. For a condition as rare as ours, this was a big deal in the LFS community.

On October 27, 2017, Let There Be Light was released in movie theaters across the country, bringing LFS to the general public once again. (Thank you Susan Frary for letting us know!)

Fox’s Sean Hannity is executive producer of this faith-based film that stars Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Andromeda) in his directorial debut, and real-life wife Sam Sorbo. Sam Sorbo also co-wrote the film with Dan Gordon, screenwriter on movies like Passenger 57 and TV shows like Highway To Heaven. SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the film and are wanting to, you may want stop here, there are some details mentioned below about the plot.

Let There Be Light movie posterDr. Sol Harkens (Kevin Sorbo) is a celebrity author and the world’s most famous atheist as a result of the death of his 8 year old son, Davey, from a brain tumor. That genetics could be involved is teased early in the film in Harkens’ debate with a Christian cleric. Harkens says, “I’m willing to say my son’s death was just plain bad luck, a quirk of genetics, a bad roll of the cosmic dice, or maybe some corporate villain who poisoned the water.” He says if he were a praying man, he’d pray to see his son one more time, but that would mean praying to the very so-called God that killed him.

Harkens is estranged from his Christian wife, Katie (Sam Sorbo) and their remaining two sons (played by the couple’s real-life sons). With his life spiraling out of control, Harkens drives drunk, has a car accident, and is clinically dead for 4 minutes. In that time he indeed sees Davey again. Davey tells his father it isn’t his time, and “Let There Be Light.” Harkens returns to consciousness a changed man. The world’s biggest atheist finds God. The Harkens make plans to remarry – and to fulfill Davey’s request by creating a LTBL phone app to send light across the world to Heaven on Christmas Eve, with Sean Hannity as their media partner. The family seems to be back on their way to happily ever after as Christmas nears – until tragedy strikes again.

Katie has a seizure just like Davey’s. In the hospital the next morning, a doctor (played by country star Travis Tritt) comes to talk to the couple. He says, “We’ve had a chance to study the MRI and the CT scan, and we’ve gotten a pretty detailed look at your blood work.” Sol asks for the doctor’s specialty. Upon learning that the doctor is an oncologist, the Harkens understandably freak out. Katie cries, “It was me, wasn’t it? I gave it to him, didn’t I, Doctor? I gave our son cancer.” The oncologist tells her no. He says, “the blood work indicates that you have Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. People with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome are susceptible to various types of cancer, including brain tumors.” They discuss her prognosis and options, then the family goes on to make the most of the time they have left together.

In one scene, Katie tells her boys that whatever happens to her is God’s will, that she doesn’t believe in death, that it’s like she’ll just be in the next room. Katie dies in Sol’s arms on Christmas Eve as the world shines their LTBL lights to heaven and her family sings “Silent Night.”

Of course, Let There Be Light isn’t at all intended to be a primer on Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. Like with the episode of Grey’s Anatomy, there were inaccuracies due to time constraints. That LFS is inherited is implied when Katie dramatically asks if she gave her son cancer, but that the oncologist vehemently tells her no confuses the fact that LFS is indeed inherited at least 80% of the time. Genetic testing was never mentioned. Genetic test results aren’t available for next-day delivery – at least not yet. Maybe some day. Mentioning that the other two sons have a 50/50 chance of also having LFS and asking about family history would’ve been a responsible way to educate about the condition, perhaps even prompting audience members to wonder about their own family history, do more research and consider genetic testing themselves. But the goal of this movie is simply to encourage faith in difficult times. Opening a whole can of realism worms that prevent the story from wrapping up with a bittersweet Christmas Eve bow wouldn’t help.

Li-Fraumeni Syndrome was simply  the tragic vehicle chosen to convey Let There Be Light‘s message of hope. Katie’s tragedy could’ve been completely unrelated to her son’s, and the story would’ve still held together. It makes me wonder if there is a true LFS story in the lives of one of the screenwriters. If so, it’s a story I would like to hear. In the meantime, I hope that Let There Be Light might turn on a light of recognition and awareness next time those movie goers hear mention of Li-Fraumeni Syndrome.

UPDATE: The day after this blog post was released, I received a message from Dan Gordon, the co-screenwriter and producer for Let There Be Light, and we now have our answer: Dan’s brother had LFS. Dan was kind enough to grant me an interview for the Learning Li-Fraumeni Syndrome podcast. Watch it here. I’m so grateful to Dan Gordon for sharing his very personal story, and helping us bring awareness to LFS!

Read more real stories of hope from real Li-Fraumeni Syndrome families on this blog, and on our Facebook page.

#LetThereBeLight #ShareTheLight


In Memory of D’Ana Reed. Founder. Mutant. Sister. Friend.

 

D and Court

D’Ana and her sister Courtney helped found Living LFS. They soon became our mutant sisters as we worked to bring those living LFS together. D’Ana lived fully and completely and shared her positive energy and laughter with anyone she ran across from childhood friends, to chemosabes(chemo friends) to her mutant family. The way D’Ana lived is very much the foundation of Living LFS and refected in our core values: Community, Compassion, Respect, Integrity and Levity. D’Ana had brilliant ideas and was the first we’d go to when we needed ideas. She came up with the idea for our first T-shirt fundraiser- Have You Hugged A MUTANT Today?

D tre mills ramer mutant

She was the first to pack up and hit the road to visit a friend in need, her mutant family just gave her many more opportunities and these connections were so valuable, she wanted others to have the experience too. After many years of living with metastatic breast cancer, D’Ana passed away, as she lived, with the ones she loved most right there. We lost more than a mutant sister that day.

 

Courtney shared with us D’Ana’s words of wisdom and we know she’d want us to share them with you.

 

My sister and I have shared a lot of things over the years, but of all the things I could have possibly shared with her, a genetic disorder that makes you prone to multiple cancers certainly was not on the list. I wish this was one of the things I could have hidden from her so she couldn’t have it, like the “good Barbies” and other toys I used to stash in order to keep them from her clutches. If I could go back in time, I would much rather share those than share this. But we are here now together as Mutant Sisters and making the best of it. So I will share with you a few things that I have shared with her in hopes that you too will be able to find some bright spots on your journey.

Surround yourself with POSITIVE ENERGY.  A positive attitude and keeping company with positive people can and will get you through anything. Sure we all have bad days…we’re entitled, but try not to let them weigh you down.

BE SELFISH! Now is not the time for you to take care of the needs of others, they should be   reminding you to take care of yourself so you can be as healthy and happy as possible.

LAUGHTER is a daily necessity. Cancer is no laughing matter, but let’s face it…isn’t everything a little bit easier when done with a smile and a little bit of giggling?

LIVE life FULLY AND COMPLETELY. Be proud of who you are and the fact that you are a fighter. Keep trying new things, meeting new people, traveling and experiencing all that life has to offer.

-D’Ana Reed