Brave 8-year-old Alea Starr-Smith will be boarding a plane for the first time today on her way to Queenstown to fulfil a special wish - to touch snow.
The trip comes a year after the Tauranga girl was told she had a 1.5cm tumour on her brain. It had to be removed urgently, in an operation she might not have woken up from. The surgery saved Alea's life, but left her temporarily paralysed on one side of her body. In the following months, she taught herself to walk again.
Scary hospital rooms and painful treatments became a distant memory when the Make-A-Wish Foundation fairy paid Alea a surprise visit a month ago. She waved her wand and announced: "I'm here to grant you your wish."
Proud mum Dianne Smith says, "She was jumping up and down and clapping. There's no way we could have ever afforded it ourselves."
Alea says: "The snow is the most exciting thing. I'm also excited about being on an aeroplane."
The week-long adventure includes ski lessons, jet boating and gold panning with her mum and Nana. New Zealand's Next Top Model judge Sara Tetro is taking the family to the Audi mountain racing track, where Alea will ride in an Audi S5 with rally driver Timmy Marin.
Doctors initially diagnosed Alea with epilepsy and the cancer was only discovered after her mother demanded more tests.
"I knew they were wrong. I told them I wanted an MRI scan, I knew something wasn't right, that it wasn't epilepsy," Smith says.
"Every mother should listen to their gut feelings."
Although it will be 10 years before doctors can clear Alea of cancer, her prognosis looks positive.
For information about making a donation or helping the foundation, go to makeawish.org.nz.By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss @Cagorrell Email Celeste