Judy Erdahl was well known in the Minnetonka area from her years as an Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) coordinator and parent education instructor. When Erdahl went out, she was greeted with warm hugs and heartfelt support by many moms and their kids.
“She was always smiling and radiated happiness,” said her friend Becky Thompson, “even when she had cancer and was completely bald.”
Erdahl never let cancer stop her from living a full life. Since 2011, her mission was to advocate for national breast cancer research, organizing a cancer conference in the Midwest and shining a spotlight on a devastating illness.
Erdahl, 57, died of metastatic breast cancer on Aug. 22.
She was born in Minneapolis and moved with her family around the country, graduating from high school in Lubbock, Texas. In the early 1980s, Erdahl landed back in the Twin Cities, living with her father in Minnetonka and attending the University of Minnesota, where she earned a degree in psychology.
She met her husband, Steve, at My Pi Pizza, where they both worked as students. “She told me she couldn’t fall in love with a 16-year-old busboy,” he recalled, “but I was 24.”
After they completed their degrees at the university, they married. Along with their two boys, Luke and Ranen, they’ve lived in Deephaven since 1993.
Erdahl had a “passion for 2, 3, 4 and 5-year-olds and working with their parents,” said Steve Erdahl, who said she excelled as coordinator of the Minnetonka School District ECFE and also served on the Minnetonka School Board.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and after surgery and chemotherapy was feeling healthy and strong. However, on the fifth anniversary of her diagnosis, tests revealed she had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, which had spread to her bones.
A group of close friends had previously started Team Judy. They decided to raise awareness and funds specifically for metastatic breast cancer research at the Masonic Cancer Center at the U to develop improved treatments and therapies.
“Judy wasn’t raising money and [then] saying ‘That’s enough,’ ” said Dr. Douglas Yee, director of the Masonic Cancer Center. “She helped direct it to pilot projects relevant to women with metastatic breast cancer.” Team Judy has raised close to $200,000 since 2012.
Erdahl was also instrumental in co-founding the Midwest Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference, which provides a forum for education and support. Last year’s conference drew more than 300 people. Another conference will be held in November. In addition, Erdahl had maintained a blog, Pink is Complicated, an emotional, in-depth chronicle of her challenges living with cancer.
She was a tireless resource, role model and leader to “make something meaningful out of an awful situation,” said Thompson. Her mantra was to create joy and practice gratitude, said friends and family. “Gratitude was her cornerstone of healing,” said Kelly Grosklags, an oncology counselor. “The way she coped with fear is finding one thing she is grateful for each day and each moment.”
Erdahl cherished traveling with her husband and was known as “the cheesecake goddess” for her favorite dessert. “She recorded herself reading books on video for her future grandchildren,” said aunt Debi Swanson.
In July, Erdahl appeared at her last Team Judy fundraiser in friend Kate Bryant’s backyard.
“There was heartbreak,” said Bryant. “We knew Judy was in hospice and that’s a hard journey.”
Erdahl is survived by husband Steve and sons Luke and Ranen. Services have been held.