Brave children whisked off to Lapland for an adventure at Santa's home
LAUGHING merrily as a reindeer pulled her along in a sleigh, Darcey Ince quickly forgot the past two years of intensive chemotherapy and life-saving injections.
And memories of losing her hair three times were soon buried as she toasted marshmallows on an open fire.
Darcey had a chance to try these things because she was one of 60 East Midlands children treated to a day of tobogganing and husky rides in Lapland – which ended with a meeting with Father Christmas.
The Allestree youngster – in remission from cancer – was joined by Cory Howard, of Codnor, who suffers from acute renal failure, and Lewis Dyche, of Chaddesden, also in remission, for the trip of a lifetime.
Last year, Darcey, five, missed out on the trip after she was hospitalised with chicken pox for ten days.
For most children, such a length of time in hospital would have been a big event but, for Darcey, she was well used to trips to the ward.
That is because, more than a year before – at the age of two-and-a-half – Darcey was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Her mum, Samantha, and twin brother, Harrison, joined her on the three hour flight to Scandinavia – organised by Nottingham-based charity When You Wish Upon A Star.
It arranges magical trips and activities for children with serious illnesses and disabilities, with Lapland the highlight of its year.
Samantha, 41, said: "It was a fantastic day for all of us.
"We were all really disappointed when Darcey couldn't go last year but she was just too poorly.
"The past two-and-a-half years have just been day-to-day for us all."
Darcey's condition was only discovered when Samantha took her to the Royal Derby Hospital with small red dots on her skin.
She said: "Within an hour, we were at the Queen's Medical Centre, in Nottingham, and, within 12, she was having her first dose of chemotherapy."
But Samantha said, during a period of more than two years where she underwent gruelling procedures, her daughter was remarkably resilient.
She said: "At one point, she was having 10 syringes of medicine before she could go to sleep and she used to just take them all.
"She never complained. She was just fantastic.
It was an early start for Darcey, the other children and their parents, as they boarded the specially-chartered flight to Santa's home in Rovaniemi – more than 800 kilometres north of Helsinki – at about 7am.
After the three-hour journey, the children were whisked into the area's "Enchanted Forest" for an exciting afternoon of activities.
As the youngsters stepped off the buses into the pure white snow, the sound of huskies barking and the smell of smoke hung in the air – while rows of bare, snow-caked trees stretched out into the distance.
After a group photo, some of the children raced off into the show in sledges pulled by their parents.
Others made a beeline for the reindeer rides, with the chance to feed the furry beasts their favourite snack of lichen.
Darcey put the tasty treat in her hands and it quickly disappeared.
At the end of the trip, she said: "I loved the husky dogs. It thought they were so cute and seeing Santa was great too."
Alongside Darcey on the plane from East Midlands Airport was Cory and his mum, Christine .
The 12-year-old has suffered from acute renal failure since he was two.
Christine said: "This trip has been amazing. And it has come just at the right time for him. Cory only has one working kidney and it only functions at a quarter of what it should.
"He is starting dialysis in the new year and then will be looking for a kidney transplant. The next few months are going to be really hard and we have to enjoy what we can.
"We are so grateful to the charity, all the staff and everyone who has made it happen. It's such a special day for us all and, to see so many poorly children smiling, is just so magical."
Cory – who previously got to ride in a Lamborghini sports car thanks to the charity – said: "I loved tobogganing in the snow. I had the best time."
And, as if the excitement of seeing Santa was not enough, there was the added bonus of being able to hold a Paralympic gold medal.
Richard Whitehead, who sprinted to victory in the 200 metres at the London 2012 Games, was also on board.
The Nottingham athlete said: "This is what winning this medal is all about – being able to give something back the community.
"And meeting these kids was a fantastic experience."
Among children who had a picture taken with the Paralympian was Lewis, 10.
He is currently in remission from leukaemia after suffering from leukaemia twice. He relapsed in August 2011.
His mum Sharon, 47, said: "After his relapse, he had to have a bone marrow transplant and has been in remission since August this year.
"He was too poorly to come last year because of the relapse but, when we got the call to say we had a place this year, it was great.
"It's lovely to think that people haven't forgotten about us with Lewis going into remission.
"And the day was just amazing. The kids all loved it and Lewis just loves snow – so it was perfect for him."
Maggie Falconer, East Midlands fund-raiser for When You Wish Upon a Star, said: "It was a wonderful experience for all our Wish children, meeting Father Christmas. We can only organise these trips with the public's support.
"As a self-funding charity, we rely solely on donations from our supporters and corporate partners. It costs £85,000 to take these amazing children on this trip."
To support the charity, e-mail maggie.falconer@ whenyouwish.org.uk or call 0115 979 1720.
IMAGES: See more amazing pictures here.