Team Finn takes on dreaded disease

“I do this for full moons and Finnrises.” – Patrick Sullivan on his decision to ride in the Cancer Foundation’s Ride to Conquer Cancer

By Lesley Pritchard, staff writer

Team Finn and family photo

The team of lawyers and their friends wear pink — Finn Sullivan’s favorite colour.
Inset ­photo: (left to right) Samantha Mason, Baird (holding photo of twin brother Finn), Patrick Sullivan and Sarah.

As a corporate litigator, Patrick Sullivan knew about long, tough days. At least the North Vancouver lawyer thought he knew about them. That was before Finn got sick.

Finn Sullivan was born in 2005, along with his twin brother, Baird. Patrick and his wife, lawyer Samantha Mason, already had an older daughter, Sarah. With the birth of their two boys, the couple had what most would consider the dream family.

The dream was shattered in February 2007 when Finn was only 18 months old. Doctors found a tumour the size of a grapefruit in the little boy’s belly. He was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma.

“You can’t really think when something like this happens,” said Patrick, struggling to explain his state of mind. “It was an emotional jumble of fear and confusion. It was at BC Children’s hospital and doctors used words like ‘mass.’ I commend them for it. It gave us a chance to transition to ‘cancer.’”

Finn went through countless rounds of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. There were many difficulties that came with the illness and the treatments, including the little boy having to wear a urinary bag. But his dad can still picture in his mind how Finn didn’t let it get in the way of being a kid. “He would jump in his little yellow car and throw his pee bag behind his back and zoom down the hill on our cul-de-sac. Finn taught us a lot.”

Gavin Marshall, a friend and fellow lawyer, also clings to the memory of the brave little knight whose favourite colour was pink. “Finn was amazingly brave despite the increasing pain and the litany of intrusive medical procedures which knocked him down, but never out.”

It proved impossible for Samantha to work and she eventually decided to leave her law firm. Financial support from the legal community poured in. Friends would show up at the couple’s home with cash and instructions to spend it foolishly, or however they wanted. The money helped pay for the whole family to go to Boston where Finn got experimental treatment.

In Spring 2008, Finn was given the all-clear. The bliss lasted two short months. The cancer roared back with a vengeance and on October 9, 2008, Finn died at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.

The emptiness could have become unbearable. The tears flowed freely as Patrick talked about what he and his family have lost, as well as what they gained. Rather than a funeral, the family held a Celebration of Life. They handed out bookmarks with a picture of Finn jumping high in the air. On the back of the bookmark were the words, “Jump, Bounce, Run, Dance, Sing, Smile, Love.” Patrick said his son did all these things with abandon.

Finn’s tough, courageous and boundless energy in the face of hardship inspired Patrick to carry on. Patrick’s friend Gavin, along with James Buckley, another lawyer friend, approached Patrick with the idea of forming a cycling team to raise money for cancer research. Patrick said yes immediately. And that’s how a group of lawyers and their friends formed Team Finn in the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Patrick hopes that the money raised will someday save others from the suffering he witnessed. At the same time, he also looks forward to the trip to honour Finn’s approach to life.

If you’d like to learn more about the ride, visit The two-day ride starts June 20. Money raised will go to research, teaching and compassionate care at the BC Cancer Foundation.