‘Little House on the Prairie’ actress Wendi Lou Lee says she relied on God to help her face brain tumor


Wendi Lou Lee had her big break in Hollywood before she even started kindergarten.


The former actress, along with her twin sister, Brenda, landed the role of Baby Grace in the hit series “Little House on the Prairie,” in which they appeared from 1978 until 1982.

Brenda and Wendi Turnbaugh as Grace Ingalls in "Little House on the Prairie."

Brenda and Wendi Turnbaugh as Grace Ingalls in "Little House on the Prairie." (NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Life for Lee was normal beyond cameras until 2015, when she began to experience excruciating headaches and confusion. It didn't take long or her to learn she had a brain tumor — an experience that she insisted has only strengthened her faith in God.

Most recently, Lee published a book titled “A Prairie Devotional,” which offers spiritual life lessons inspired by the series. The former child actress, a proud Christian, said she’s eager to share her wisdom in hopes it will help someone with his or her own battle.

Lee spoke to Fox News about her shocking diagnosis, how she originally became Baby Grace and how she’s helping to keep the show’s legacy alive.


Wendi Lou Lee today.

Wendi Lou Lee today. (Courtesy of Wendi Lou Lee)

Fox News: In 2015 you were diagnosed with a brain tumor. When did you realize something was wrong?
Wendi Lou Lee: It was about six weeks before my surgery when I started having terrible headaches, dizziness and forgetfulness. Definitely a lot of mental confusion. It took about six weeks for my doctors to finally order a brain scan. Then we found out.

Fox News: How did you make sense of the diagnosis?
Lee: Honestly, the six weeks before were so terrible that I was feeling like I might never get better. So I just wanted an answer. So when I found out there was a brain tumor and it was operable, I was relieved. I just felt like there was some kind of hope for me to finally get better.

But before, I felt like I was going to be like this for the rest of my life. I didn’t know how I was going to function. When I found out, I was just relieved. And I finally had peace. And it finally made sense – I had a brain tumor. I can imagine other people would be scared, devastated by the news. But in my case, I felt like I finally had an answer and there was something we could do about it.

Fox News: How did your surgery go?
Lee: I went into my surgery very excited and hopeful that God was going to take charge. But when I woke up from surgery, I was not your typical patient waking up. I was very exuberant and telling stories. I remember telling my family this was the best day of my life, which is rather strange that I would say that.

Wendi Lou Lee after brain surgery.

Wendi Lou Lee after brain surgery. (Courtesy of Wendi Lou Lee)


But I was so grateful to be alive, that I could remember my name and my children’s names. I think I was just on this high… But recovery was hard, having to handle my two little children. I was incredibly sensitive to sound and movement. And when you have two little children, it’s sensory overload. That was really hard for me. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself, let alone take my children to school.

Fox News: What was your recovery like?
Lee: Everybody reacts to the surgery differently. Your senses can be heightened or very depressed. You’re either totally out of it and not into it or electrified – and that’s how I was. My sense of smell – everything felt so heightened after my scalp was ripped open. I was just so aware of everything.

Fox News: How did faith play a role as you recovered? 
Lee: Faith played a huge role. Before my surgery, I was so hopeless. I kept praying to him and saying, "I need you, please be with me." And then after surgery, I just felt such gratefulness… I just felt like my faith woke up and I had this sense of boldness to share my story in hopes it could help someone.

Wendi Lou Lee (left) with her sister Brenda.

Wendi Lou Lee (left) with her sister Brenda. (Courtesy of Wendi Lou Lee)

Fox News: How are you doing today?
Lee: I’m doing good. I do still struggle with some headaches, but overall I’m doing great. I have a scan every August where they check out my surgery site and make sure everything looks good. But otherwise, I’m doing great.


Fox News: How did this experience impact your faith in any way?
Lee: This was the hardest thing I had to deal with. At the time, I felt like this was another storm that I was walking through. The best thing that I can do in this situation is just trust that God knows what he’s doing. A lot of people didn’t understand how that was possible.

But I just kept going back to the verse in Romans 15:13 which is "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." You may not be experiencing any joy or peace in that moment of your life, but trust that God has a plan. And after surgery, I was so joyful and so at peace – more than really what made sense. And I think that’s because I put my trust in God.

Wendi Lou Lee said she relied on faith to help her cope with surgery for a brain tumor.

Wendi Lou Lee said she relied on faith to help her cope with surgery for a brain tumor. (Courtesy of Wendi Lou Lee)

Fox News: Was there ever a moment in your healing where you just felt like giving up?
Lee: I was more frustrated than anything. You’re in a very interesting spot when you are a very careful person taking care of your family and then you come to this place where you can’t do anything for yourself. I had to just let go of the control.

I had to let other people take my kids to school, let other people cook for me – basically, I had to let other people do everything for me as I healed. I guess it was this surrendering of control that was the hardest thing for me. But every day I got better and then some days, I felt like I took a few steps backward. It just felt good to walk to the mailbox. And other days, I just couldn’t. Recovery is being humble enough to let other people help you.


Fox News: How did you get the role of Baby Grace?
Lee: I would like to say it was the grace of God because I did nothing to earn that position. We were 6 months old when my grandmother was having lunch with the casting director on "Little House." It came up in conversation that they were looking for a baby Grace, but they couldn’t find blonde-haired blue-eyed twin girls that were about six months old.

Brenda/Wendi Turnbaugh as Grace Ingalls, Karen Grassle as Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls in "Little House on the Prairie."

Brenda/Wendi Turnbaugh as Grace Ingalls, Karen Grassle as Caroline Quiner Holbrook Ingalls in "Little House on the Prairie." (NBCU Photo Bank)

A lightbulb went on for my grandmother. She immediately said, "My granddaughters would be perfect!" She sent a picture in. The executive producer thought it was great. My mom took us in. Michael [Landon] took one look at us and said, "Those are our girls." And that was it. We didn’t do anything except be ourselves.

Fox News: How do you feel about Michael Landon today?
Lee: Michael was just amazing. We were really little so we didn’t have the same memories that other cast members had. But I just remember thinking that he was basically my dad. My dad wasn’t really in the picture when we were on the show. He left our family when I was about two and a half. And so we really didn’t have a father figure in our lives.

When you’re that little, it’s hard to have a lot of memories. But I just remember him as being very charming, very patient. I remember one time he was giving me direction for a scene and I blurted out "No way, Jose!" And there was like a gasp. Who says no to Michael Landon? Apparently Baby Grace. He at first went, "What?!" And just bursts out laughing. And then everyone started laughing. But he was just great fun to be around. He really was like a father figure and very engaged with all of us.


Michael Landon holding Wendi Lou Lee and her twin sister Brenda.

Michael Landon holding Wendi Lou Lee and her twin sister Brenda. (Courtesy of Wendi Lou Lee)

Fox News: Do you remember the last time you saw him?
Lee: The last time I saw him was right before he got sick. And if he was, you would have no idea he was sick. He was still keeping busy producing and acting in "Highway to Heaven." He was completely in the thick of it.

Fox News: What was your relationship like with Melissa Gilbert?
Lee: Melissa was really like a big sister. She was always carrying me around. She used to sneak into our dressing rooms while she was supposed to be at school just to spend some time with us. But we were all very close. She still claims that she taught us our first word *laughs*. It was "bead" because we were playing with these little beads on a string. She was great. She was always holding us, feeding us.

Fox News: What was your life like after “Little House on the Prairie”?
Lee: We did one audition for a McDonald's commercial. It didn’t go very well because we had never eaten McDonald's before. We didn’t even know who Ronald McDonald was *laughs*. So we didn’t get that role. But the next audition that we did, we actually got the role.

We had one day of shooting with a set of twin boys. We thought it was a great day, super fun. But my mom realized that no place in Hollywood was like "Little House." They basically didn’t care if we were hungry or tired. They just wanted the work. So we left show business and started kindergarten. And that was it. We grew up as normal as you can be.

Brenda/Wendi Turnbaugh as Grace Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls.

Brenda/Wendi Turnbaugh as Grace Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls. (Gary Null/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)


Fox News: Have you ever been tempted to return to acting?
Lee: No. I think we're very grateful to our mom that got us out of that scene. I think we just wanted to be normal people. We were definitely very involved in art school talent shows and things like that, but nothing else that a normal kid wouldn’t experience. When we reconnected with the cast in 2004, we hadn’t seen them for about 25 years. Then we started doing all of these events for them. So for the last 15 years, it’s been me traveling with the cast to different places and doing events for fans.

Fox News: How important has it been to keep the show’s legacy alive?
Lee: It’s so important. I hadn’t realized how many people watched the show until we started doing these events. I was just in awe. And I feel like there are more fans every year. There’s a whole new generation of viewers. It’s pretty fabulous that it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Wendi Lou Lee remains devoted to her faith.

Wendi Lou Lee remains devoted to her faith. (Courtesy of Wendi Lou Lee)

Fox News: What do you believe is the secret behind the show’s success?
Lee: It shows how people desire stories that are simple but are based on faith and family. I think viewers are just longing for simpler times and the show delivers that. The show is all about survival and relying on faith and family to overcome the obstacles of life.