Chicago (CBS) — It’s a place of magic, love and the holiday spirit. And for kids battling serious illnesses, Operation North Pole is a day to escape their troubles.

Anthony and Rina Cervone will never forget their experience, a special memory now after losing their five-year-old son Lucas, affectionately known as “Bear”, to cancer.

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“We’ve made lifelong friends out of perfect strangers because of this event alone,” Anthony Cervone said.

After a breakfast, the families head out on a decorated Metra train starting in Crystal Lake. At every stop, first responders and community members cheer them on.

“It’s all volunteer work – nobody collects a paycheck,” Anthony Cervone said. “It’s just incredible what they do.”

Once in Des Plaines, a police and fire escort leads the group of up to 75 families to the transformed Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

Inside, the 28,000 square-foot ballroom becomes a winter wonderland, welcoming the families to explore candy stands, games, performers and more.

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“It’s just something that I think we can never forget, that we were there that day,” Rina Cervone said. “I’m glad we got to enjoy it and that Lucas got to see that. His eyes were so big.”

The Cervone family now volunteers for Operation North Pole, putting up two trees to honor Lucas. They also play Secret Santa to another child by fulfilling their Christmas wishlist.

They remember their day with Lucas as a time without cancer on their minds.

“Operation North Pole absolutely gave us a whole day that we didn’t have to think about it,” Anthony Cervone said. “We didn’t think about cancer that day. We didn’t worry about the hospital. We didn’t worry about anything. All we focused on was watching the kids have an amazing time, enjoy themselves.”

There are still tickets available to Sunday’s High Tea with Mrs. Claus to help raise funds for this year’s event on Dec. 15.

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For more information, head to Operation North Pole’s website.