In 2004, at the age of just four years old, Ali was diagnosed with a cancer known as Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It was a long and tough battle that combined months of chemotherapy treatment followed by intense and painful radiation.
At that time, social media was limited to texting and email so the news and progress of his recovery was limited to immediate family and a handful of close friends. Those that knew about the diagnosis wanted to help Ali and reached out to his mom, Jen, to offer assistance, but she didn't even know where to begin to ask for help. At the time she was struggling to keep up with her full time job on Army active duty, attend to the needs of her two younger children ages 2 and 3 and ensure Ali had everything he needed to beat the cancer. Thankfully, Ali was victorious and when he was finally deemed cancer-free on April 11, 2005, the family breathed a deep sigh of relief and cautiously waited until they hit that magic 5 year window of remission.
On April 11, 2010, five years to the exact date of his cancer-free prognosis, Ali and Jen celebrated with the biggest ice cream cookie cake that has ever been made and marked the momentous day with a tattoo on Jen's wrist. The tattoo simply reads "04-11-10" and Jen would look at it every day thanking God for the blessings of a healthy child. So, the family took off running and living life thinking they would never look back on cancer again. Unfortunately, as life would have it, in July 2017 two days before his 17th birthday, Ali was diagnosed with another type of cancer, osteosarcoma, a bone cancer located in his right scapula (shoulder blade). His friends were amazing and they immediately shaved their heads in support and threw Ali a huge surprise birthday party. It was a terrific send-off just before chemotherapy began.
One of the hardest pieces of information to comprehend is that this secondary cancer was most likely the result of the radiation Ali received to treat his Hodgkin's Lymphoma 13 years earlier. The family was devastated and Ali and Jen found themselves reliving the nightmare all over again. Ali started chemotherapy in July and he will continue through September. The first half of the chemotherapy treatments will be followed by a very intense and complicated surgery the first week in October to remove his shoulder blade and replace it with a cadaver bone. Soon after surgery, Ali will begin chemotherapy all over again. It's a daunting thing for a young man to face in the prime of his life.
So what do you say to a 17 year old diagnosed twice with cancer who loves to play basketball, lifts weights daily, hangs out nightly with his tight-knit group of friends and has a genuine passion for preparing and eating good food? Do you tell him that he will never be able to play basketball again, lifting weights will be limited to his lower extremities and left arm only, he can't go to school this year because his immune system will be too weak and he will be spending months at a time in the hospital, that he probably won't see his friends much until next summer, and eating won't be enjoyable for the next year? No, you don't have to tell him any of these things because he already knows the painful reality of the situation. And this is all best case scenario. The other things that could happen along the way are both unfathomable and unmentionable but constantly on the minds of both Ali and Jen. Of course, he's older now and he understands what is to come, what the next year of his life will look like and what will never be again. We can't change the inevitable but we can give Ali something to look forward to along the way, something that will arm him for the battle to come, something hopeful. Unlike the first war with cancer, Jen now knows what she can say to you, her friends and family, when you ask how you can help. You can help to send Ali and her on a culinary excursion so Ali can EAT his way across the United States! Eating and cooking is Ali's favorite past time and the one passion of his that we can positively affect.
The idea came to Ali one night in the hospital during his second round of chemo while he and Jen were watching his favorite show "Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown." He turned to his mom and he said, "You know, after we get through all of this, once I beat this, we should travel the world and treat ourselves to some good food. You and I deserve that after all we have been through together." The next day a map was purchased, pinned to the hospital wall and sticky notes, push-pins and arrows started appearing all over the map as Ali began identifying the restaurant(s) he wants to visit in every state as soon as his taste buds come back and he can keep food down. With the help of the AMAZING staff on the 3W Pediatric Ward at Walter Reed and their food recommendations, Ali was able to complete the map during his latest visit to the hospital. And now he has a plan!
It's given him a purpose, a goal and something to look forward to when he is finally cancer-free again for the second time. He reviews the map daily, looks at online blogs of the restaurants and scans the menus daily planning what he will order at each location. He told his mom that he dreams about some of these restaurants and the amazing creations of their chefs. The idea of this excursion has given him a new found motivation and renewed strength to stay strong to fight this cancer.
Here is the list of Ali's preferred restaurants by state:
Alabama: Highlands Bar and Grill
Alaska: The Marx Bros Cafe
Arkansas: The Cliff House Inn
California: San Francisco Quince
/ Los Angeles Grand Central Market
, Kogi BBQ Food Truck
, In-N-Out Burger
/ San Diego South Beach Bar and Grill
, Sako's Mediterranean Cuisine
, Phil's BBQ
Colorado: Black Cat
Connecticut: Homestead Inn
District of Columbia: Old Europe
Florida: Miami Joe's Stone Crab
/ Key West El Siboney
and Ka'aloas Super J's
Idaho: The Modern Hotel and Bar
and Gino's East
and Iowa State Fair Food
Kansas: Joe's Kansas City BBQ
Louisiana: Commander's Palace
Maine: Fore Street
Maryland: Mandalay Resturant & Cafe
Massachusetts: Union Oyster House
Michigan: Muldoon's Pasties
Minnesota: Spoon and Stable
Mississippi: City Grocery
and Sip & Dip Lounge
Nebraska: The Boiler Room
Nevada: The Buffet at Wynn
and The Bellagio Buffet
New Hampshire: Moxy
New Jersey: Cafe 2825
New Mexico: El Pinto
New York: Souvlaki GR
and Patacon Pisao
North Carolina: Durham Picnic
/ Davidson Kindred
North Dakota: Helena Mezzaluna
/ Great Falls Kroll's Diner
Ohio: The Orchids at Palm Court
Pennsylvania: Abe Fisher
, D'Alessandro's Steaks and Hoagies
and Reading Terminal Market
Rhode Island: Bouchard Resturant and Inn
South Carolina: Columbia Cola
/ Charleston Hominy Grill
South Dakota: Meridian Corner
Tennessee: Central BBQ
Texas: Austin Franklin BBQ
/ San Antonio Biga on the Banks
, The Kathmandu
Vermont: Hen of the Wood
Virginia: Inn at Little Washington
West Virginia: Lot 12 Public House
Wyoming: Snake River Grill
Somewhere overseas, maybe Tokyo, Japan!
Money raised will cover the cost of airfare to various locations and the cost of the meals. Jen and Ali will drive to resturants in the mid-Atlantic and east coast and they will cluster restaurants in various states staying with family and friends whenever possible in order to cut down on costs. If you have any ideas on how to make these visits possible or you have connections at these locations or other recommended restaurants please let us know.
Let's do our best to send Ali and Jen to every state where they can enjoy some amazing food together in honor of another courageous and victorious fight against cancer!
Please help Ali b[EATs] Cancer
while he EATs his way across the United States!