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Mother, daughter take ‘terrifying’ journey together

Wendy Erlandson loves to sing.

Wendy Erlandson and her mom, Myrna Hanson, were both diagnosed with cancer within a few days of each other in 2006. The two went to chemotherapy together and lost their hair together. They are now 10 plus-year cancer survivors. Photo by Carol Stender

The popular performer has graced the stage in Fergus Falls every year for 38 years, and for the last 13, she’s joined her singing partner, Linda Mellon, for annual performances. But there was one year, a year she called an “eventful year,” when she took a break.

It was 2006 when Wendy, a busy wife, mother and registered nurse, made a discovery that changed her plans dramatically. She found a lump on her breast. A biopsy confirmed it was cancerous, but the mass was discovered early, she said. Wendy had a lumpectomy and began chemotherapy. The year off would be a time to focus on her health and recovery.

Then, just three days later, her mother, Myrna Hanson, was diagnosed with lung cancer. After surgery to remove an upper lobe of the lung, the two began a journey of care and treatments together.

“It was terrifying,” Wendy said. “I knew I was going to be fine, because of the early stage of my cancer. But here was my mom dealing with it, too.”

Through her nursing background, she knew the medical side of what they were experiencing, but it is also important to be your own advocate.

“You can’t expect the doctors and nurses to know everything you are going through,” she said.

They tackled the challenges as a family, she said.

“Everyone around us came to the forefront and helped,” Wendy added.

Her sister, Deirdre Evavold, along with Wendy’s husband, Dean, and her father, Eugene, rallied around the pair. Meals were made, trips to chemotherapy planned, and everyday care needs were handled.

Wendy and Myrna tried to schedule as many chemotherapy sessions together as possible. Nurses said it was the first mother-daughter chemo they’d conducted.

When they lost their hair due to the chemo, they shaved their heads.

Christmas that year was hard because they were both tired, she recalled. Her three children, Thea, Joanna and Simon, took over the holiday arrangements and dinner while she and her mom rested on the couch.

She recalled a friend who would stop by during the infusions and brought conversation and laughter.

And it was a time for song. Maybe music wasn’t always played, but it was a soothing force in the day-to-day activities.

Music is a gift the two share. Myrna was a stay-at-home mom during Wendy’s early years, and while dad was at work, some of their time was spent in song. Myrna, organist at the Ten Mile Lake Lutheran Church, would often play the piano, and Wendy would join in song.

She expanded her talent in school as she performed with ensemble groups and barbershop through the Fergus Falls Public Schools music program. She met Dean in school, and the two shared a love of music.

Wendy focused on general studies when she attended Minnesota State Community and Technical College because she wanted to be involved in the college’s music program. She performed in the Madrigal performing group and in college plays.

Despite her passion for music, Wendy studied nursing. It was a decision prompted by her grandmother, Gyda Clauson.

“She said, ‘Wendy, we have enough teachers in my life. We need a nurse,’” Wendy said.

After she graduated with a licensed practical nursing degree, Wendy and Dean married, and she began her nursing career. She worked in Elbow Lake before joining the Lake Region Healthcare Clinic, where she worked as a pediatric nurse for three doctors – Larson, then Baker and, for 21 years, Eisinger.

But Wendy felt she wanted to do more and returned for more schooling. In her 40s, she returned to the local college and graduated with a registered nursing degree.

She’s worked as a school nurse and is one of the owners of New Dimensions, a medical service agency that provides a range of home care. Although her role is more administrative, Wendy does make some client visits. Sometimes they share a song with her.

“I have had people along the way who find out I am a singer, and they want to play something for me,” she said. “There is something that’s just so soothing about it…about music.”

As Wendy used her nursing skills, she continued to perform first for the Center Singers at the Fergus Falls Center for the Arts and when that group disbanded, began singing with Mellon.

She hasn’t gone far from her Otter Tail County roots, but she has traveled abroad and often includes some musical entertainment in her journeys. While visiting Norway, she attended some performances, and in Italy, she went to the opera.

In December, she joined Mellon for a holiday performance that’s become an annual treat. They weren’t alone. Wendy’s six grandchildren joined them onstage for a few numbers. They also enjoy singing, she said. And, like their grandmother, they enjoy performing for others.

“It gets in your blood,” she added.

It’s a gift and a legacy she garnered from her mom.

The two continue to make music together and are singing praises for 10 years as cancer survivors.

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