Gray matters: Otter Tail Lake woman makes brain tumor education, research her mission
In 2007, Julie Fletcher of Otter Tail Lake suffered a grand mal seizure while accompanying her husband, Rick, on a business trip.
The now-44-year-old woman ended up in a Colorado emergency room with the life-changing news that she later turned into a mission to help others.
On the last night of their trip, Rick knew something was wrong with his wife because she wasn't herself, but he mistakenly thought she was upset with him as they headed to a restaurant.
After pulling over to switch drivers, the next thing Julie remembers is waking up in a hospital.
"Where are we, and what are we doing here?" she remembers asking her husband.
That night, Julie was told she had a brain tumor the size of a small orange in her right frontal lobe.
"They think it had been growing for 15 to 20 years," she says. She'd had no warning signs or symptoms.
Julie was given the option to postpone surgery until the end of the summer, but she called and asked for the next available appointment.
"Why would I wait? The sooner I get this out, the better," she says.
On June 21, 2007, a surgeon at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., removed Julie's brain tumor and some of the surrounding tissue.
Biopsy results showed the mass was a grade 4 oligoastrocytoma, an aggressive malignant brain tumor.
"Start living," her doctor told her, giving her a 12- to 18-month life expectancy.
The news came as a shock to Julie and Rick, as well as their friends and family.
"Any time you get a diagnosis like that, it's devastating," Rick says.
Julie says at that moment, she decided to fight the disease head-on.
She underwent six weeks of radiation therapy and then six months of chemotherapy.
Aside from one scare in 2009, her brain scans have shown no signs of the disease.
Julie's positive outlook helped her get through the first 12 months, then 18, then years past her original prognosis.
"Attitude is everything. I can't control everything, but I can control my attitude," she says.
Though Julie's doctor repeatedly reminds her that the cancer could come back, she says she's no longer scared.
"You learn to live life without the worry," she says.
Julie and Rick, who have been married for almost 20 years, started channeling their energy toward brain tumor awareness, education and research.
"Her whole passion is to find a cure for brain tumors and help other people," Rick says of his wife.
The couple got the idea to start North Dakota's only nonprofit brain tumor charity in 2008 when they attended an event in Minneapolis called Humor to Fight the Tumor.
"It brings people together in a time of need," says Julie, who was an honoree at the 2010 Humor to Fight the Tumor.
With the help of volunteers, the Fletchers packed Old Broadway in downtown Fargo for the first Pray for Gray event.
"We couldn't do it without them," Rick says of their friends, supporters and donors.
The Pray for Gray dinner and silent auction has grown each year. Now it's held at Centennial Hall at the Fargo Civic Center.
"We've given over $100,000 (to the American Brain Tumor Association) since we started," Rick says.
He and Julie say they'll continue Pray for Gray until they reach 10 years or a million dollars, whichever comes first.
"I want to make a difference. I want to show people there's hope," Julie says.
Save the date: The fourth annual Pray for Gray silent auction and dinner will be held Sept. 14.
How to help: Checks or money orders made payable to Pray for Gray Foundation can be mailed to PO Box 446, Fargo, ND 58107. For more information, email Rose Noesen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-799-0414.