A spunky 6-year-old in California who befriended a group of firefighters got a special ride to her final chemotherapy treatment earlier this month.
The Moraga-Orinda Fire District picked up Finley Brown, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer in June, and her family in a fire truck to drive them to Oakland's UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital on Dec. 21 — a thrill of a lifetime for Finely and her little brother, Cooper, 4.
Finley met the firefighters this summer at a festival where the family lives in Moraga, just east of the Bay Area.
"We've always taught our kids that whenever they see a fireman or a police officer or a soldier, it's nice to approach them and thank them for keeping us safe," her mother A.J. Brown told TODAY.
So when Finley, who was with a babysitter and her little brother that day, saw a group of firefighters, she marched right up to them.
"Finley caught our eye initially because she didn't have any hair, and then because she started talking to us — this little girl had a ton of confidence," firefighter Lucas Lambert told TODAY. "She wasn't shy at all. She introduced both her little brother and babysitter to us and had no problems asking questions. And then she went on to tell us her story and started showing off her scars and telling us what she had been through in the past month or so."
Lambert and his colleagues were so inspired they decided to take the young girl under their wing, getting to know her family and even hosting a fundraiser to raise money to send them to Disneyland once her chemotherapy treatments were over.
And the icing on the cake? A ride in style on a fire truck to her final treatment.
"I'd never seen someone with such a big smile going to the hospital," Lambert said. "I was having just as much fun as she was."
Brown said she's "very grateful" for Lambert and the other firefighters' kindness.
"They've just been incredible, fireman Lucas in particular," she said. "Like we didn't have enough reasons to love firemen already! They put their lives on the line to keep people safe every day, and on top of that, they do amazing things like this."
Finley's type of cancer, a Wilms tumor, occurs in about 7 out of 1 million children under age 15, according to Dr. Wolfgang Stehr, her surgeon at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland.
Finley was diagnosed with stage 3, which is even rarer. Dr. Stehr called Finley a "fun and courageous gladiator" and said she underwent her final round of chemotherapy bravely.
"Finley, with her beautiful, loving energy and her amazing family, has connected with me in a very deep way and all of a sudden I was not just part of her hospital team, I became part of her family," he said in a statement to TODAY.
"I was allowed to see close up what it means to live through the therapy, the scary moments and the multiple trips to the hospital."
Finley is back at the hospital today for the removal of her venous access port, a small implanted device where the chemo was inserted, and then only has to return for checkups and imaging studies as her immune system recovers.
Her family plans to head to Disneyland in April.
"She's definitely excited to get back to regular kid stuff," Brown said.