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Family mourns death of ‘Strongest girl in Beldenville’

When Marlee May Erlandson's parents learned Marlee's cancer had spread, they dedcided to make a bucket list of what Marlee would like to do. One of the items on that list was to visit her friends at the daycare. Photo courtesy of Pam Dusbabek from Heart of Life Photography1 / 4
One of the items on Marlee Erlandson's bucket list was to enjoy a day at the movies. Photo courtesy of Pam Dusbabek from Heart of Life Photography2 / 4
Marlee May Erlandson, pictured with her parents Josie and James, continues to live every day of her life with happiness. Submitted photo3 / 4
One of the items on Marlee Erlandson's bucket list was to enjoy a day at the movies. Photo courtesy of Pam Dusbabek from Heart of Life Photography4 / 4

This morning (Friday, Feb. 23) came with sad news for many in the area as they learned that 2-year-old Marlee May Erlandson died after battling a rare form of cancer.

“Marlee was granted her angel wings this morning,” Marlee’s mother Josie Erlandson posted on Facebook Friday morning. “She was very comfortable, her pain was well controlled and she went so peacefully. Our hearts hurt so badly, and they will for a long time. We will update after arrangements are made.”

Less than a year ago, Josie and her husband James faced the unexpected and heartbreaking news when they heard their daughter had a rare form of cancer.

Marlee was diagnosed with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma last year after her parents noticed her eye appeared irritated. Josie and James took Marlee to Mayo Clinic in Red Wing and were then referred to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for further evaluation. Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common soft tissue cancer in children.

After consulting with the oncologists, Josie and James set up a treatment plan of chemotherapy and radiation to treat the cancer.

Josie said Marlee went through 39 chemotherapy treatments and continued to be an inspiration to everyone. Even through her chemo, Josie said most people were amazed at how Marlee was handling everything. She was able to tolerate the treatments with little side effects and kept herself in good spirits.

“It’s pretty crazy how resilient she is,” Josie said. “Even through chemo she didn’t lose energy.”

But soon, everything changed.

Josie said their experience has been the cliched “rollercoaster” many people talk about. They went from an expected 90 percent survival rate to a 10 percent survival rate; it came so suddenly.

In December, when Marlee had a scan everything came back “clean,” Josie said, but unfortunately things changed quickly. In January, Josie said Marlee suffered a seizure and doctors discovered the disease has spread to the spinal fluid and brain. At this point, they had been looking at just one chemo treatment to go, but this news changed their plans. Josie said the only way to deal with the three-plus lesions in the brain would be to direct radiation to Marlee’s brain. Josie and James realized then that with her brain being so undeveloped, direct radiation would cause too much harm.

“We felt quality of life was important for Marlee,” Josie said. “She’s so energetic. So that’s how we decided to bring her home.”

With the time they had left, Josie said they wanted to spend as much time with their little girl as they could and tried to make every minute memorable and enjoyable.

“We probably only have 2 to 3 months with her,” Josie said last week. “We made her a little bucket list and we are trying to do that with the time we have left.”

This bucket list consisted of riding a horse, riding a school bus, a daddy-daughter dance, bringing joy to residents at Preferred Senior Living in Ellsworth and building a cake as tall as Marlee.

Josie said thanks to the generosity of the community, they had the items on the list taken care of and she and James were looking forward to sharing these memories with Marlee.

“Letting her be as active as possible because she’s so full of energy,” Josie said last week. “Right now she’s in really good spirits. She’s really happy and laughing all the time.”

Marlee already had the opportunity to ride on a school bus when Julie Baggenstoss, an Ellsworth bus driver, gave her a ride. The trip also included going by the Webster farm and Marlee was able to see some cows, which Josie said she really enjoyed.

Throughout everything, the Erlandsons have been thankful for the generosity and support of family, friends and the community.

“Thank you everyone in the community and surrounding communities,” Josie said. “Despite how much bad there is in the news in the past nine months so many have proved how good they are and are willing to help. You never realize you have that many people supporting you and praying for you until this.”

One of the items on Marlee’s bucket list was to have a daddy-daughter dance, which will still be held Sunday, Feb. 25 at The Bluffs Bar and Grill in Hager City from 3-6 p.m. Organizers are encouraging people to attend the dance in Marlee’s memory.

Casey Oricchio, Josie’s cousin, is helping the family with the benefit. She said the cost is $20 per father/daughter couple and other guests get in free. Oricchio said there will also be food available for purchase. For more information on the event people can go to

Oricchio said they would like to thank all those who helped with the Daddy Daughter Dance. These sponsors include Crystal Hines & Jessie Dahl Always Pure (makeover), Bluffs Bar & Grill, Steve Hayes (DJ), Casey Oricchio (princess crown, dress and shoes), Hanisch Bakery (life size cake), Riley Kate Dorau (photography) and several community members.

Throughout everything, Josie said Marlee’s good spirits and happy demeanor were truly an inspiration.

“She’s just so brave,” Josie said about Marlee before her death. “She’s an inspiration of how everyone should live life — pure happiness every day.”