A get-together for Ali BorgenAli is coming home, and she wants a party.
It’s not to say goodbye, though it appears that day may soon be here. Spunky as ever, Ali wants to celebrate.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
Ali is coming home, and she wants a party.
It’s not to say goodbye, though it appears that day may soon be here.
Spunky as ever, Ali wants to celebrate.
“She would rather you come to this than to her funeral,” her mother said. “She wants to see you and talk to you and hug you and share her beaming smile.”
For almost four years, 14-year-old Ali Borgen of Grand Forks has struggled against an aggressive leukemia, bravely facing surgeries, a stroke, debilitating chemotherapy and off-the-chart pain like no child should have to endure.
Platoons of doctors and nurses at Altru Hospital and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., have fought alongside Ali and her family through the initial diagnosis and two relapses, the latest and darkest coming over the holidays, forcing a return to Altru on New Year’s Eve and an emergency flight to Mayo on Sunday.
A bone marrow transplant in September, which had looked promising, ultimately failed to keep the leukemia from returning. The primary focus now for Ali, her family and doctors is to get the excruciating pain under control and prepare her for hospice care at home.
And a party.
In a New Year’s posting on Ali’s CarePages site, Karen Borgen tells about her daughter’s latest trials and, if this is the end approaching, how she wants that ending to play out.
“We were going to throw Ali a party to celebrate the end of her treatment and being cured, but things didn’t work out that way,” Karen wrote on Monday.
“That will not stop Ali. She is having a Celebration of a Lifetime! She wants everyone she knows — or doesn’t know — to come together to celebrate and have fun with her.
“This does not mean that we have given up all hope, but we have to be realistic and have as much fun and do as much as Ali wants.”
The “Celebration of a Lifetime” is tentatively scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center, space offered by Ramada events planner Ann Vosskuil, whose daughter, Taylor, 15, died in 2007 from the same form of leukemia that struck Ali Borgen.
Taylor and Ali were among a dozen Grand Forks area children whose cancers were diagnosed in or around 2007, raising concerns about a possible cancer cluster and sparking an ongoing investigation by state health officials.
“It’s been a hard week,” Vosskuil said Tuesday as she worked on party arrangements. “It has brought it all back for me. But it’s what Ali wants.”
Dress up as your favorite movie star or cartoon character and walk a red carpet at the party, Ali says, or just come as you are. She promises music, pictures, refreshments, a silent auction to raise money against cancer, smiles and laughter. She wants to meet people who have prayed for her, sent her stuffed animals and helped her family with a four-year medical marathon.
“But cancer is unpredictable,” said Wendy Moen, Ali’s aunt, so organizers caution that alternate arrangements may have to be made and announced as late as Sunday morning on the FaceBook page “Ali Borgen’s Celebration of a Lifetime.” A recorded message providing updates will be available at (218) 779-2095.
Also, because Ali at this stage is dangerously susceptible to infection, people who may be ailing or may have been exposed recently to flu or colds should send their greetings and messages by
e-mail to aliborgen@
Once more, it’s ‘home’ to Mayo
The leukemia has been hard on Ali’s back, causing vertebra fractures and pain and forcing her to wear a turtle-shell back brace.
On New Year’s Eve, paramedics called to the Borgen house carried her gently in a blanket to an ambulance, which brought her to Altru. Throughout New Year’s Day, doctors there consulted with doctors at Mayo, trying to find the right mix of medications to deal with the pain.
“Ali is hoarse from screaming and crying out in pain for so many hours,” her aunt wrote.
Mayo sent a jet to bring Ali and her mother to Mayo. Her father and brother, delayed by storms, set off by car once roads were cleared, arriving after midnight Monday.
Scores of people who have followed Ali’s story offered prayers and encouragement — and vented their frustration — on her CarePages site.
“Heartbreaking,” one woman wrote. “There just are no words. It is so very hard to understand why this brave child has to suffer so.”
Jenny Hanson wrote from Roseau, Minn.
“Ali … I have been following your story but yet have never met you. You are an inspiration to people everywhere, young and old. Your courage amazes me. You have been through more than anyone should ever have to go through in a lifetime.”
A new mix of medications had made Ali’s pain tolerable by Monday. Doctors added Ritalin to counteract the drowsiness caused by all those meds.
“It worked,” Karen Borgen wrote. Ali went on a “field trip” with her brother and nurse to get smoothies and take photos all over the hospital that had been her home for much of the past few years.
She worked on crafts, visited with her favorite chaplain and her favorite doctor and hung out with her grandparents.
Monday night, mother and daughter slipped away for some quiet time together in a seventh-floor meditation area.
“Ali and I sat and talked about so many things,” Karen wrote. “She so wanted to write a prayer in the prayer book, but she was too tired to write and fell asleep after saying, ‘Heavenly Father.’ I believe that her prayer continued — and was heard — after she fell asleep.
“I sat and looked at my baby girl for an hour, desperately trying to burn every feature into my memory. …
“On the way to her room, Ali painstakingly wrote a message on the 6-foot-tall dry erase board in the waiting room. It said, ‘Believe in yourself.’ She wrote this while falling asleep from meds, while closing one eye because she was seeing double from meds, and while sitting in her wheelchair.
“She is so beautiful. She teaches me so much.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to email@example.com.