(CNN) — Ever since the movie “Moana” first hit theaters, 8-year-old Mathias Pascal from Cuxac-d’Aude, France, has dreamed of visiting the land of “Vaiana” — the name for the ebony-haired heroine of the 2016 Disney blockbuster in its French release.
“He watched the film ever since he was little, and I’d tell him, sure, one day we will go,” Mathias’ mother, Aline Pascal, told CNN during a recent phone call from Raiatea in the South Pacific. It’s one of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, where the family is wrapping up a monthlong adventure they didn’t expect to be taking so soon.
It was nearly a year ago that Pascal and her husband, Eric, received news no parent ever expects to hear.
After noticing that Mathias — an otherwise sporty and active 7-year-old at the time, who loved swimming in the pool and the Mediterranean Sea near their home — was having mobility issues, the couple, relatively unworried at first, took him to the doctor.
Days later, on December 30, 2020, they got the terrible diagnosis. Mathias had an aggressive form of brain cancer called brain stem glioma. Because of its proximity to critical structures, they were told it was inoperable and that their blond-haired boy with the sparkling eyes likely had just one year to live.
“The first thing we did was quit our work the very next day, so we could spend every minute surrounding him with love and support and making him feel as good as possible,” said Aline, who left her job as a nurse. Eric left his job as a welder.
“Then we decided we would find a way to take Mathias to the place of Vaiana,” she said.
Mathias Pascal and his mother, Aline, enjoy a ride on a traditional boat in Moorea, French Polynesia.
Courtesy Aline Pascal
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French Polynesia, which sprawls over 1.6 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean between Australia and South America, is famous for its otherworldly beauty across 118 islands and atolls.
The landscapes in places such as Tahiti (the island where most international visitors land), Moorea, the Marquesas and atolls such as Rangiroa and Fakarava encompass everything from verdant and vertiginous mountains and booming waterfalls to ring-shaped coral atolls that look like life preservers tossed onto the deep blue ocean. The islands are known for having some of the best scuba diving on the planet.
Famous for luring honeymooners with their hearts set on staying in an overwater bungalow someplace …….