Little Gracie’s dream Lapland trip after cancer agony – see how YOU can help sick child

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During four magical days in Lapland, Gracie Whitwam searched for Santa, rode on a reindeer, took a sledge pulled by huskies and had Mrs Claus read her a bedtime story.

For any child it would be a dream holiday, but for Gracie it was so much more – helping erase the traumatic memories of months of dreadful cancer treatment with happier ones to cherish forever.

Gracie and her family went to Lapland’s winter wonderland thanks to Make-A-Wish UK, a charity that helps make dreams come true for seriously ill children which is being supported by this year’s Mirror Christmas Appeal.

Gracie, 12, says: “I’ll never forget it, but it helped me to forget all the horrible stuff that happened.”

She was eight years old when she complained of a headache on Boxing Day 2017, which parents Stephi and Martin – who also have a son Oliver, then aged four –initially put down to the excitement of Christmas.

Gracie has acute myeloid leukaemia

The whole family met Father Christmas

But within two weeks Gracie had been airlifted from her home in Guernsey, the Channel Islands, to hospital in Southampton.

Stephi, 39, recalls the moment the doctor told them Gracie had acute myeloid leukaemia, a rare and aggressive form of blood cancer.

She says: “As soon as he said it our world came crashing down.

“I remember walking through Southampton, thinking, ‘Why Gracie?’”

Gracie had four rounds of chemotherapy, giving everyone a scare when she got septicaemia in the second round. But she finally returned home six months later with the cancer in remission.

Thanks to Make-A-Wish UK the family were looking forward to a trip to Lapland in November 2018.

But just weeks before they were due to leave, everything was put on hold.

The family enjoyed a day out on a sleigh

Stephi says: “Gracie had her ninth birthday party on November 3, and the day after she told me, ‘Mummy, I’ve a bit of a sore throat ’.

Later that day she tripped and within seconds bruising came up on her back. I knew then that she’d relapsed and it was back to Southampton.”

This time Martin stayed on Guernsey as Gracie’s brother Oliver had started school.

Stephi says: “On the plane over I remember sitting trying to hold back the tears, then Gracie looking at me and saying, ‘Don’t worry, Mummy, I’ll be fine’.”

This time Gracie’s only hope was a bone marrow transplant. Stephi and Martin were devastated to find they were not a match.

But Oliver was tested and, despite only one in four siblings’ cells matching, he was a perfect match with his older sister.

Stephi says: “I had reservations about putting my other child through that, but we were honest with him, and always gave him the choice, and he never once said no.

“He actually told us, ‘I’m going to save my sister’. We’re so proud of Oliver. He saved her life.”

By Jason Beattie

For the majority of families this Christmas will be a joyous time of presents, food and fun.

But for some children the festive season will be very different.

Across the country there are more than 63,000 young people who are critically ill.

Many will be spending what should be a special time of the year in hospital.

Others will have to have treatment, scans or blood tests.

With your help we can give them a Christmas that they will always remember.

This year’s Mirror Christmas Appeal is raising funds for Make-A-Wish UK that helps seriously ill young people make their dreams come true.

It could be they want to meet their hero or heroine or feed an animal at the zoo or travel to see Santa in Lapland.

The money raised could help Joshua, six, who has severe epilepsy, achieve his wish of a bedroom makeover or Summer, also six, who has acute leukaemia and dreams of a bouncy castle.

Each year Make-A-Wish helps hundreds of critically ill children achieve their lifetime’s ambition.

But to make a wish come true takes an army of volunteers, supporters and donors.

That’s why every penny you donate could make a difference.

Granting a wish can transform a child’s life. It gives them something to look forward to.

For others it provides a special memory which makes the treatment they need more bearable.

It can also help their parents who, despite doing everything they can for their sick child, feel it is not enough.

Jason Suckley, Make-A-Wish UK chief executive, said: “I met the family of a boy who was recovering from brain surgery.

“His grandmother told me how difficult it had been for her to watch her daughter struggle with the challenges of her son’s condition.

“But while they were enjoying his wish together, her daughter turned to her and said, ‘There is still magic in this world isn’t there mum?’ .

“That’s just one instance that illustrates how the power of a wish lies in sharing positive memories with loved ones.

“Every donation from Mirror readers will help us create those memories – bringing joy to ill children and their families during the darkest of times.”

After the transplant, Gracie spent six months in isolation in hospital, only allowed to see her mother.

They were allowed home in June 2019 and later that year the family finally got to go to Lapland.

Staying in a log cabin in a snow-covered forest, they sledged to the hotel for breakfast, then spent the day doing activities such as helping the elves search for Santa.

Stephi says: “Mrs Claus came to read us a story on the second night. It was a busy few days with a husky ride, reindeer ride, the snowmobile and tobogganing.

“We’re so grateful to Make-A-Wish for giving us that experience, they are an amazing charity.”

Amber has CLN2 Batten disease

Amber with her mum Chantelle

Gracie agrees. She says: “When they made that wish come true it made up for a lot of the bad stuff.”

Doting mum-of-four Chantelle Cammack was left devastated in April last year when her young daughter was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder.

Amber Bowling, 12, received her diagnosis of CLN2 Batten disease just two months after Chantelle, 33, found out her eldest son Sheyne, 14, also had it.

Full-time mum Chantelle, who lives in Sheffield, says discovering Amber also had the life-limiting condition was a “massive shock”.

Chantelle, who also has sons Mason, eight, and Cruz, five, says: “Amber was going through an autism diagnosis, but when Sheyne got his result back I wondered if she had the condition so sent off her DNA to be checked.

Online: www.make-a-wish.org.uk/mirror

Text: To donate £5 text the word LIGHT to 70030. If you’d like to give £5 but do not want marketing communications, text LIGHT NO to 70030.

You can text more than once if you wish to donate more.

Post: Please post cheques payable to MAKE-A-WISH UK to Freepost address below:

Freepost Plus RUCS-LHTL-CJGU

Make-A-Wish Mirror Appeal

Make-A-Wish UK, Seventh Floor, Thames Tower, Station Road, Reading, Berkshire RG1 1LX

“When it came back positive for Batten disease I was devastated.”

Children can have worsening problems with vision, movement, communication as well as seizures.

“It is the cruellest disease,” says Chantelle. “Amber isn’t able to walk much, 10 steps a day, and it causes her a lot of pain.

“Her eyesight is stable but when things deteriorate with the condition it can happen quickly.

“We take each day as it comes. The kids have to be so strong at such a young age. I try not to let Batten disease rule our lives.”

Now, after Make-A-Wish UK provided Sheyne with specialist sensory equipment last June, Amber has asked the charity, supported this year by the Mirror Christmas Appeal, to make her a princess for the day.

“Amber is a really girly girl, so this wish is her all over,” says her mum. “It’s amazing the Mirror is supporting Make-A-Wish and raising awareness.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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