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


Using Family Loss to Sing Awareness of LFS for Mo and Kerry

 

My name is Kathy Higgins. I have lost 4 family members to LFS.

 

lfs-bio-minus-photos-just-pics

KERRY

Kerry was first diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12, an osteosarcoma in her thigh. She received chemo and had multiple operations on her leg. Kerry also had several small cancer issues over the years, skin spots on her face and back. She was not diagnosed with LFS at the time because the year was 1995, and LFS was just being discussed.

KerryShe was 30 years old when she passed away in 2014. She had a recurrence of breast cancer from 2005. Without the LFS diagnosis, her breast cancer would not have been detected due to her young age. She had a double mastectomy in 2006 when precancerous cells were detected in her breast. Kerry knew there was a 93% chance those cells could turn into cancer. About 1% of breast tissue was left after the surgery and that is where the cancer started to grow, fueled by pregnancy hormones. Many LFS breast cancers are hormone driven cancers. Kerry was the mother of 2 little girls, ages 3 and 5. She had a loving husband of 8 years.

MO

Maureen.In 2002, our second daughter Maureen who was 18 years old at the time, developed a stage 4 adrenocortical carcinoma before we even knew she was sick. At this time, doctors decided it was time to look further into our family history. Maureen had surgery and chemo, but did not respond well to chemo. We lost her within 4 months.

 

FINDING LFS

Upon researching our family history, we discovered my husband’s dad passed away at age 37 in 1966 from a brain tumor. In 1993, my husband’s sister died at age 32 after battling 3 different cancers, Breast cancer, cervical cancer and leukemia over 2 years. Now LFS was discussed as a possibility and Kerry was tested and positive for Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. My husband also tested positve, but not until 2015, until then we presumed he was positive since Kerry was.

My husband Jim did not present with his first cancer until the fall of 2014 with a sarcoma in his arm. The sarcoma was treated with radiation prior to surgery in 2015. All went well until another sarcoma was discovered in his thigh in May 2015. The sarcoma was removed with no recommended follow up treatment by Dana Farber Cancer Institute. We are scheduled to go back to DFCI in November for follow up and to check for new cancers.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

As a wife and mother, I was beside myself with grief and terrified my husband was going to suffer the same fate as Kerry, Maureen, his dad and sister. I felt so helpless to stop this disease. I decided to become an advocate for LFS awareness and raise money for research. I want to be able to help identify other families that have the same mindset we had, in that we were just an unlucky cancer family. That changed when our LFS diagnosis was found. LFS Awareness is key to survival. Many doctors do not know about LFS and are missing key signs in families that could be affected with this mutation. My goal is to travel to all of the doctors and medical facilities in my surrounding area and try to educate them about LFS. Then they can help LFS families stay healthy. Currently we have to travel 6 hours one way just to meet with a doctor that is familiar with LFS and can help us follow a healthy protocol to screen LFS patients for early signs of cancer. In this day and age, this is just not acceptable. So, in September 2016, I travelled to California to attend a rare patient advocacy training conference, so I can be a better, more effective advocate for awareness and fundraising for the LFS community.
I can never bring back my daughters, father-in-law or sister in law, but if I can even identify one family that could be saved from the heartache our family has endured, it will be worth it.

MO SONGS FOR KERRY

Mo songs for Kerry Hiigins fam

I started an organization called Mo Songs for Kerry.org with a couple of my girls’ friends and family. Every year we host a large fundraiser in upstate New York. Our 4th Annual event will be July 29, 2017. We use this event to raise awareness for LFS but also to raise money for research. Local news stations helped us do this for our past event, we had 4 different stories run in the local TV market. We are very grateful for the support our local media has given ups and the awareness of LFS. A portion of the proceeds also go to a local hospital run guest home that caters to families with loved ones in the hospital and patients who are going through long outpatient treatments.

Li-Fraumeni Syndrome is a very difficult thing to live with. You are always waiting for the other shoe to drop and you feel like the boy who cried wolf if you go in for every lump, bump or pain as if it is cancer returning. It makes living a normal life more difficult but at the same time you learn to appreciate every day you are given. If you are diligent with screenings, you can live a normal life.

LIVING LFS

We can not let living with LFS cause us to not live life to the fullest. WE will do our best to live and honor our girls and their memory by living life as healthy and happy as we can. We know this is how they would have wanted it. Kerry lived with LFS for 10 years and got married, started a business and had 2 beautiful healthy non mutant little girls. She carried firewood into her house 3 short days before she died and was entertaining all the people in her hospital room mere hours before she passed away. She lived life to the fullest even with the tremendous burden on her mind. I am very proud to be the mother to these two special ladies and I hope to make them proud with my efforts to make a difference. I will be a warrior beside my husband and do everything I can to help him be screened carefully and get treated right away if any signs of cancer appear.

I am very grateful for the LivingLFS.org website and support group where we can connect with other families going through similar problems. We are all stronger if we support one another and share our trials and tribulations as well as our joys of negative test results and positive treatment outcomes. Before discovering this website we did not know a single LFS family. Hugs and Prayers to all of you out there dealing with LFS. We are stronger together!