To a child, a stuffed animal can mean many things – a source of comfort when things get scary, a cuddly companion to tag along on adventures.
This holiday season, a new plush friend will be looking for a home, designed by a Lower Mainland family as a tribute to a courageous and spirited young boy.
Finn Sullivan was just 20 months old when he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare, pediatric cancer in the form of a large tumour in his lower abdomen. And for the next 20 months, Finn endured countless operations, rounds of chemotherapy and radiation and invasive procedures leaving him, at times, fragile and riddled with pain.
With parents Patrick and Samantha, older sister Sarah and twin-brother Baird by his side, Finn faced each medical challenge with strength and bravery. Throughout it all, he managed to celebrate the simple joys of childhood when he could, whether it was jumping in a bouncy castle, singing along to his favourite song or chasing his siblings around his North Vancouver home.
Finn died on Oct. 9, 2008, at age three.
Not long after the family learned Finn’s condition was terminal earlier that year, the Sullivan family had been introduced to the Starlight Foundation, a group that strives to improve the lives of children suffering from chronic and life-threatening diseases. The Sullivans – with the help of close friends – took a trip to San Diego, which was supported financially by the organization.
Each year, Starlight, in partnership with Toys R Us, works with a family to create a special-edition plush bear – a tribute to a child that has been involved with the organization.
“The signature bears become a symbol for us of the hope and spirit of our families,” Starlight’s Heather Burnett explains. “Although they’re used to raise money for the foundation, they also create connections for us with donors and with families, in a way that exemplifies what Starlight is all about.”
This year, the Sullivans were chosen to create the tribute bear, with five-year-old Baird at the helm of the design process.
Baird and his assistant – eight-year-old sister Sarah – were given various samples of fur, along with the previous year’s tribute bears, to help them decide exactly what they wanted to include. The result is a cuddly rabbit with brown eyes, a pink nose and floppy ears, named Finnspiration.
Every aspect of Finnspiration is dedicated to the young boy who inspired so many, says father Patrick, explaining the brown eyes to match Finn’s and the floppy, pink ears – a tribute to Finn’s favourite stuffie, “Pink Bear.”
On each of Finnspiration’s feet are a smiling cartoon bunny, which represent a mantra created by the family and inspired by Finn – Run, Jump, Bounce, Dance, Sing, Smile, Love, Ride.
“The name, Finnspiration, is a word that has become a part of all of our vocabs,” Pat explains. “It’s meant to capture an approach to life that is about moments, enjoying the moment and challenging yourself. Sort of taking the mantra – Run, Jump, Bounce, Dance, Sing, Smile, Love, Ride – it’s easy to do that when it’s easy, but if you want to see someone’s true measure, see if they can do that when it’s hard. And Finn could. He just kept going.”
Creating Finnspiration is just one of many ways the Sullivans have given back to the organizations that helped them cope when Finn was sick. They started Team Finn – made up of close friends and family members, as well as complete strangers – which this year had more than 100 riders take part in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, raising more than half a million dollars for cancer research.
They also take part in the annual Childrun, raising money for BC Children’s Hospital, as well as the Canuck Place Adventure Challenge.
Like everything they take on with Team Finn, the Sullivans hope Finnspiration will celebrate Finn’s life, bring some fun into someone else’s and raise money for an organization they feel passionate about.
“I hope people will find or feel or experience some of the joy of childhood in the bear, and everything we consider to be Finnspiration,” says Sam. “I think any opportunity we have to keep Finn or a new way to have Finn in our lives is a real treasure for us, and it means a lot to have Baird and Sarah involved.”
“If anything, what (Finn) taught me, and what I hope Finnspiration bear will bring to other people’s lives is the notion of, ‘You’ve got one life, live it,’” he says. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
To find out more about Finn’s story, or Finnspiration, visit www.teamfinn.com or www.starlightcanada.org