Laura Gifford relaxed on a pontoon while visiting with friends and family on Lake Orono this past Sunday. These days, Gifford takes as many lake days as she can.
Ten years ago, Gifford nearly lost her life to a brain tumor. On the 10th anniversary of her successful surgery, Gifford’s nonprofit, Grey Ribbon Foundation, is throwing the first Sunday Funday event Aug. 11 to raise money for brain tumor research by the National Brain Tumor Society. Future events are expected to raise money for local brain tumor survivors and their families.
Originally, Gifford wanted to throw a party for her personal milestone. Instead, she created an event to share her favorite place with others and is inviting the Elk River community to join in for the cause.
The family-friendly event, hosted at Elk River’s Orono Park this Sunday from 2-9 p.m., will feature a sand castle building contest, raffles, carnival games, food trucks, and a live band.
How she got here
It all began when Gifford started feeling strange symptoms. Her left arm felt numb and tingly. Her memory was usually sharp, but she felt like she was going crazy, forgetting people’s names and details. And she felt like the world was tipped at a strange axis. She began to ask questions.
At the time, Gifford had four young children and was running her own small business. Though she was stressed and managing many details in her day-to-day, Gifford said she just didn’t feel right.
After visiting eight different doctors and leaving with no answers, a frustrated Gifford made a ninth appointment with a family practice physician in Rogers. The doctor put her on the exam table and started with basic tests.
It was then that they discovered Gifford’s reflexes were delayed. Up until this point, no other doctor had evaluated her physical state.
The results of this appointment in Rogers sent her to have an MRI, which gave an answer to her nagging question. A tumor was sitting on the nerve center of her brain.
Even though the diagnosis was shocking, Gifford said it finally made sense.
“I was relieved that I wasn’t going crazy,” she said.
Shortly after this discovery, Gifford experienced grand mal seizures, some of which landed her in the hospital for weeks, sometimes unable to recognize her family.
On Aug. 11, 2009, she had surgery to remove the tumor at the Mayo Clinic.
While the surgery was successful, recovery has been a slow process. Up until a year ago, Gifford had seizures, which barred her from driving. With four kids to shuttle around, Gifford has leaned on her community, friends and family to manage. She has been driving for one year now and has been seizure free.
On top of recovery, medical bills have piled up. Through countless follow-up appointments at the Mayo Clinic, overnight stays and transportation on top of out-of-pocket co-pays, Laura and her husband Brian downsized their home in St. Michael and moved to Lake Orono.
Gifford says they downsized their home, and upgraded their lifestyle, noting that they love the lake and the community they have found.
Gifford knows she is not alone in her experience.
“It’s so expensive to be sick,” she said, citing the over $100,000 in bills and out-of-pocket expenses that have accrued.
As an entrepreneur, Gifford is planning to continue her fundraising efforts in order to help a local family in the future. Depending on how successful this first event is, Gifford hopes the event gains traction and next year they are able to support a family dealing with the cost of their loved one’s battle with brain tumors.
“I know donating money to a family might not change their life, but it might lessen the stress just a little bit,” she said.
For now, Gifford enjoys her new lease on life and is grateful for sunny days with her kids and husband on Lake Orono.