Finley is an energetic and outgoing 10-year-old. She loves horses, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and taking care of others. But her biggest passion is dance.
Unfortunately, when Finley began treatment for cancer, she was forced to take a break from dancing. “She was much too weak during treatment to do anything that active,” explains her mom, A.J., “and being immunocompromised from the chemo meant that she couldn’t be in groups of people.”
When Finley was first diagnosed, A.J. and Finley’s dad, Aaron, lived through what they describe as “every parent’s worst nightmare.”
“It's like your life gets flipped upside down,” she explains. “Everything around you keeps moving on as normal, but it's weirdly inverted and underwater for you.”
According to A.J., Finley’s wish experience was the brightest spot for the whole family in an otherwise dark time.
For years, she’d been asking to visit Aulani, the Disney resort in Hawaii, but the trip hadn’t been in the family’s budget. “When she was given the chance to make any wish, she didn't waver at all,” says A.J. “She knew immediately and without question that she wanted to see Mickey Mouse in Hawaii.”
In the months leading up to Finley’s wish, A.J. says that the anticipation was “a beautiful counterweight to what was often a tough day-to-day journey”. During treatment, while Finley was losing her hair and feeling sick from the chemotherapy, she could look towards her trip. “When she when she would talk about Aulani, her face would just light up,” says A.J.
Finley most enjoyed meeting her favorite Disney characters. “They made her feel so special,” says A.J. In fact, every day on the trip was pretty special. “The warm water and ocean breezes were so healing for her,” explains A.J. “She was happy and excited one hundred percent of the time!”
A.J. says that in Aulani, for first time since Finley’s diagnosis, they felt like a “normal” family again. “Away from the hospital, away from the people who were always so concerned–in Hawaii, we were just us, and just happy,” she explains.
Aaron says that the trip was also an important break for Finley’s brother, Cooper, who is very protective, and struggled to watch Finley suffer during her treatment. “He made sure to always be by her side and making sure she was safe,” Aaron says. “It was quite incredible how we all came together in such a crazy time.”
“We will be forever grateful for our magical, memorable, healing trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth,” says A.J. “These precious bright moments have sure been a light through the dark parts of the path that we’ve been set upon,” says Aaron.
In the months her treatment ended, Finley dove back into dance, and she was excited to reunite with her friends from class. To her surprise, they had choreographed a triumphant dance routine for Finley, to Rachel Platten’s inspirational “Fight Song.” It sure lifted her spirits,” says A.J.
Finley and the entire family continue to stay closely connected to the Make-A-Wish mission. “Finley happily wants to give back in whatever way she can,” says A.J.
Finley ended up having another moment in the sun as one of the talented wish kids whose artwork was featured on Jimmy Garoppolo’s cleats as part of the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign. For the campaign, NFL players were given the opportunity to showcase their favorite charitable cause on a pair of cleats that they’d then sport on the field.
The 49ers quarterback selected Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area and debuted his cleats wrapped in art created by local wish kids at a game in November. “I hope my cleats make you extra fast,” Finley told Garoppolo in a video that featured her and the other young artists.
Finley even had the chance to sit down with Garoppolo for an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. In the heartwarming video, Garoppolo confirms that Finley’s cleats “must have made [him] faster”, and Finley teaches a classic dance move–the jazz hands.
“She loved designing the art that ended up on the shoes, and she could not have loved meeting Jimmy G. more,” says A.J. “Finley also discovered that she loves interviewing people–we may have a budding reporter on our hands.”
Finley will also be making an appearance at the 2020 Evening of Wishes gala in March—Wishes in Bloom—where she and her friends will perform the very same dance that they choreographed to celebrate her end-of-treatment. And although Garoppolo himself may not be in attendance, his signed cleats will make an appearance during the live auction!
Join us on Friday, March 6 in San Francisco at our Evening of Wishes gala to see Finley’s powerful performance. Visit our event page for ticket and sponsorship info.