‘Little House’ star says “walk with God” helped recovery from brain tumor surgery

After she left Walnut Grove on Little House on the Prairie, former child actor Wendi Lee–one half of the identical twins who played the youngest of the Ingalls siblings–ventured away from Hollywood and braced herself for the headaches of real life.

In 2015, the now 46-year-old was suffering debilitating headaches with no reprieve, and later she learned she had a brain tumor.

Despite the incredibly devastating diagnosis, that would typically weaken even the strongest of minds, Lee says her “faithful close walk with God” gave her strength and a genuine appreciation for the experience of pain with illness and joy in recovery.

From seasons five to eight on Little House on the Prairie, Wendi Turnbaugh (now Lee), along with her twin sister Brenda, won the hearts of fans in their shared role as the adorable blonde-haired Grace, the youngest child of parents Charles and Caroline Ingalls.

One of the most successful TV dramas, Little House on the Prairie tells the story of the Ingalls family–the patriarch played by the late Michael Landon–living in the 1870s. The show starred several now well-known actors, like Melissa Gilbert as Laura, Jason Bateman in his TV debut, and an 11-year-old Shannen Doherty.

Wendi and Brenda weren’t even one when they first appeared on the series in 1978.

According to Lee, the casting director was looking for six-month-old twins with blonde hair and blue eyes to share the role of Baby Grace.

“The [casting director] was really good friends with my grandparents. They were having lunch one day, and what do you talk about in the ‘70s? The latest television show. They’re talking about Little House and…my grandmother’s like, ‘What about my granddaughters?’” Wendi said in an interview with FOX News. “They were desperate, I will say,” she joked.

Less than three minutes after meeting Landon, the twins were cast and they started filming at only eight months old.

Sharing some memories of growing up on set, Wendi said, “Michael Landon was amazing. He was so warm, so kind and so patient. Melissa Gilbert was just so fun. She would sneak off set to play with us.” Wendi continued, “Michael had so much charisma. He loved kids and just lit up around them. Karen [Grassle] was just like the natural mother to everyone. We were so content in her arms…[The cast] was so much like their characters.”

Landon died in 1991, Gilbert, now 59, played Grace’s big sister and Karen Grassle, 81, was the Ingalls family matriarch, Caroline.

After the series ended in 1983, the twins didn’t pursue an acting career.

Brenda is the wife of a youth pastor and Wendi, a web designer and author, married Josh Lee, whom she shares son Tobey (born 2004) and daughter Raegan Grace (born 2006).

In 2015, Wendi started suffering “crazy headaches” that persisted over six weeks while doctors struggled to diagnose the cause.

Finally, more tests were ordered and this time, doctors discovered a tumor growing in the ventricles of her brain. These tumors are slow growing but generally large before causing symptoms.

“And so, I was relieved,” Wendi said, explaining that a concrete diagnosis paved a path toward recovery. “I [was] a little scared, especially…for my family. I had an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old at the time, and they really needed me… [But] this peace just came over me, knowing that I had a road to walk on. I could do it trusting God, or I could do it not trusting God. I chose to trust that this was the path I was supposed to walk on.”

Within a week of learning she had a tumor on her brain, she was scheduled for surgery.

Lee said it was her “very faithful close walk with God” that gave her the courage to face brain surgery and any potential complications afterwards.

Surgery was successful and she recalls the feeling of “privilege” she felt when she woke.

“It’s funny. When I woke up from surgery, it was just this incredible experience of waking up. It wasn’t ‘Why me?’ It was, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that I got to do this. What a privilege [it is] to get to walk this road and learn what I’ve learned and grow so close to God in the process.’” She continued, “I woke up from surgery and said, ‘This is the best day of my life.’”

Wendi’s recent book “Red Tail Feathers: Dare to Discover the Beauty of Grace,” shares her journey with God and how she finds the “beauty of grace” in everything.

The book details her health battles and how her unshakable faith in God helped her through recovery.

“This book was like a big therapy session after brain surgery. I felt like I had to look back on my life through a different lens. And I saw grace in a different way. I defined it in a different way. And I felt God changed my perspective,” she said.

As for her time on Little House on the Prairie, Wendi still frequently sees some of her former co-stars, and frequently talks with fans who she says are “fans, but they’re also friends.”

Though Wendi and Brenda were just babies when they started on Little House on the Prairie, they sure were memorable characters!

We’re very happy to hear that Wendi recovered from her surgery, that looked quite severe, and it’s great that she’s sharing her experiences to inspire others!

If you found this story interesting, you need to read about Melissa Gilbert’s little brother Jonathan Gilbert, who also left acting after Little House on the Prairie!