'Three steps forward and two steps back': NYM woman who lost twin sister to cancer is now fighting for her own life
When Lynn Anderson lost her daughter, Jennifer, to cancer nine years ago, that was devastating enough.
Now she's watching as her only other child, Jean—Jennifer's twin sister—suffers through cancer herself.
The situation would be heartbreaking for any good parent. Lynn describes herself as a strong woman, but that terrible feeling of powerlessness, of not being able to ease her daughter's pain, brings tears to her eyes.
Lynn has been Jean's primary caregiver in recent weeks, since Jean is too ill to be alone, and her husband, Ken, works full-time and can't be with her on weekdays.
"To see your child in so much pain, and you can't do anything about it...it's just like Jennifer," Lynn said of Jean. "After losing Jennifer, and she suffered so bad... then we're told that Jean has cancer. And it is what it is, and it is. You can't do anything about it. You just go with the flow, as far as the treatment, and you pray. A lot."
Jean (Anderson) Landin was diagnosed last fall with two separate cancers: brain and lung. Doctors discovered an Astrocytoma tumor on the right side of her frontal lobe, and two non-small cell cancerous tumors in one of her lungs. The Detroit Lakes native is just 45 years old.
Jean's diagnosis came less than a decade after her twin, Jennifer (Anderson) Mindermann, was lost to lung cancer at the age of 37. Both events happened at the same time of year, in August.
"I'll never forget the call I got from Kenny," said Lynn of first hearing the news about Jean. "I picked up the phone...and I just knew something was wrong. 'Jean fell at work' (Kenny said), and I started shaking... I shook for a long time after that, and couldn't calm down."
Lynn intuitively knew then that something was very wrong. Jean, on the other hand, was caught completely off guard by her illness. She said it was a big surprise to her. She had no symptoms whatsoever, and thus had no idea she was sick.
It wasn't until she suddenly collapsed at work one day that she realized there was trouble.
"It was August 9, and I was at work training for a new job (at Lund Boats in New York Mills)," she said. "A coworker told me it was breaktime, and that's the last thing I remember."
Jean had a seizure and blacked out. She fell face-first into the cement floor at Lund's, fracturing her left shoulder and chipping three teeth. She was life-flighted to a hospital in St. Cloud, Minn., after being driven by ambulance to Tri-County Health Care in Wadena. An EMT who was on that ambulance ride later told Jean that he didn't think she was going to make it.
Not long after that, an MRI and CAT scan revealed the cause of Jean's seizure — the brain tumor — and her lung cancer was also discovered. She learned that the cancers were treatable, but not curable. They were already at stage 4, the most advanced stage.
To say that Jean has had a rough go of it since then would be an understatement. She came down with pneumonia shortly after her cancer diagnosis and had to wait to recover from that before she could get any more tests done or begin any treatments. The waiting was nearly unbearable.
Eventually the pneumonia passed, and on October 26, Jean underwent surgery to have her brain tumor removed. She then had 30 radiation treatments on her brain, and three more on her lung. Radiation was followed by chemotherapy, which involves her taking 10 pills, five days a week, for one week out of every month for a full year.
She's been poked, prodded and sliced into at doctor's appointments and surgical visits for the past several months. She's in pain, feels weak, has lost hair, and at times feels nauseated from the chemo. She's been unable to work for months now, and that's created emotional and financial hurdles for her.
To make matters worse, Jean was in a car accident on April 25. The crash caused a broken fibula and a compression fracture in her back, in her L1 vertebrae. She was driving from her home just outside of New York Mills into town — a short drive that was approved by her doctor — when she blacked out. A witness said they saw Jean's vehicle suddenly speed up, crash into a street sign and then run off the road into a swamp.
Jean hasn't driven since then. It was also after that when she started living with her mother in Detroit Lakes during the week. Compounding her troubles even further, Jean had a bad fall earlier this week, bruising her ribs and causing more pain.
"It seems I take three steps forward and two steps back," said Jean. Just as the worst of her cancer treatments were winding down, "now I've been in an accident, and I took a spill, and I hurt."
In the midst of all this, she's managed to keep a pretty level head and positive attitude. And she has reason to be hopeful — her brain surgery went well, and tests have shown that the tumors on her lung have diminished in size. A recent MRI on her head came back normal. She still has to complete her year of chemo, but at this point doctors are mainly just keeping an eye on her to make sure the cancers don't start coming back.
Jean said she has a "strong support system" to thank for getting her through it all, including her mom, her dad Terry, other family and friends, and the community at large. She knows what it's like to care for a sick loved one, and now she's grateful to those who are caring for her.
Jean tended to Jennifer when she was sick, and when Jennifer passed away, Jean took in her sister's two sons and raised them as her own. Those boys—Terry, now 24 years old, and Matthew, who turns 21 in June—have already had to cope with the loss of one mom to cancer; they don't want to lose another.
"Jean's been through a lot—and so have the boys," said Lynn. Shaking her head, she added, "It should be Terry or I. She should be taking care of me."
How to help
Attend the benefit. It's on Saturday, May 19 at Shorewood Pub, starting at 4 p.m. There'll be tacos in a bag, prize raffles, a silent auction and a meet-and-greet with Jean and the family.
Make a donation. Donations may be made at YouCaring.com (search for Jean Landin Cancer Benefit) or at Bremer Bank in Detroit Lakes. Send to: Bremer Bank, Attn: Jean Landin's Benefit, 115 E. Holmes Street, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501.