Updated: 12/20/2013 9:27 PM
Created: 12/20/2013 8:24 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier
As millions of Americans travel to be with their loved ones for the Christmas holiday, one young Minnesota girl is separated from her family not by distance, but by disease.
Last month, at 5 years old, Alivia Nordeen was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. She's still in the hospital, largely unable to communicate with her family -- or come home for Christmas.
She is the daughter of a Marine and his high school sweetheart, a big sister to a little brother, and a 5-year-old typically full of life. That's what makes Alivia's story so heartbreaking.
"We were over at a friend's house, and she was kind of walking off balance, and she just didn't seem right," said Becky Nordeen, Alivia's mother.
That was the day before Thanksgiving. Her mother took her to the emergency room, never expecting the diagnosis.
"The doctor came back and said, 'She's got a mass in her brain.' And I just -- it was shocking," Becky Nordeen said.
"Pretty much just dropped everything and went right to the hospital," said Josh Nordeen, Alivia's father.
Alivia had a malignant tumor in her brain the size of a kiwi.
"When you look at your child, and you just have all these plans for her life, and in an instant, her life is completely changed," Becky Nordeen said.
The surgeries began almost immediately, and were largely successful.
"We were thinking, 'She's just going to come back out and want to eat food and just want to be her vibrant self again,'" Becky Nordeen said.
That wasn't the case.
Because of the location of the tumor, Alivia developed a condition that weakened her muscles and destroyed her ability to communicate. She faces a lengthy rehabilitation, to relearn muscle movement, motor skills, and speech.
"I wish we had a crystal ball, so we could just see the exact date that's she's just going to wake up and be just fine again," Becky Nordeen said.
First, she'll spend six weeks in Chicago undergoing radiation therapy.
"The realization of how scary this actually is, and this is it for the long haul," Josh Nordeen said.
But the Nordeens have a short-term focus as well.
"We're going to try to make it the best Christmas that we can," Becky Nordeen said.
They didn't plan on decorating their Plymouth home this year, but friends took up the task themselves. Alivia's ornament sits front and center on the tree. But there is one thing missing -- the star that's always placed on top of it.
That is Alivia's job.
"We've been so focused on, you know, we bought a house and remodeling our house, and so focused on finances, and work, and none of that is important. None of it is," Becky Nordeen said.
"It just seems so petty now, looking back -- all those little things. It doesn't matter," Josh Nordeen said.
As for how the Nordeens plan to spend the Christmas holiday, they said it's hard for them to plan more than one day at a time right now. Alivia's mother and father have been constantly rotating in and out of the hospital since she was admitted nearly a month ago. They're just trying to find a way for all four of them to spend the holiday together.
The Nordeens said health insurance can only do so much. So they've set up a foundation to help pay for Alivia's medical costs. The family posted the following information on how you can assist the family on Alivia's CaringBridge page:
"If you are interested in assisting with monetary donations, there are a couple of ways to do that:
You can go in to any US Bank and say you would like to make a deposit into the Alivia Nordeen Fund. Or, you could send a check to Chris and Angela Amundson at 730 Williams Drive, Hastings, MN 55033 in care of the Alivia Nordeen Fund and they will deposit the funds.
If you're wanting to raise funds in any way shape or form, please ensure the contributions are addressed to the "Alivia Nordeen Fund," then those can be brought to any US Bank or send the check to Chris and Angela Amundson, 730 Williams Drive, Hastings, MN 55033 and they will deposit directly into the Alivia Nordeen Fund."