LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Payton Wright was only 4 years old when diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer just weeks after her birthday.
She had been complaining of pain in her knees and an MRI revealed the cancer.
Payton spent more than a year battling tumors on her spine and pelvis. Despite grueling medical treatments and surgeries far from her Lakewood Ranch home, Payton never gave up and always had the attitude that "it's gonna be a good day," her parents said.
Eventually, however, paralysis set in and death came one year later.
Payton's enduring spirit lives on in her parents, Patrick and Holly Wright, who founded the Payton Wright Foundation to support pediatric brain cancer research and financially assist families who have a child with brain cancer.
The foundation, which raised more than $100,000 last year, held a "Celebrity Bartending" fundraiser Wednesday evening at the Polo Grill and Bar in Lakewood Ranch attended by more than 50 friends, board
members and supporters. The "celebrities," parents of children with brain cancer; Payton Wright Foundation Board member Keith Mercier; and Candice McElyea, a former broadcaster and owner of a local public relations firm, tended the busy bar in support of three East Manatee County families. Two families lost sons to pediatric brain cancer and one family's son was recently diagnosed.
"Funding for research and raising awareness are important but the financial aspects are extremely important when this happens," said Holly Wright, vice president of the foundation created in 2008.
The Wrights, who have two teenage daughters, traveled long distances with Payton because there are so few pediatric oncologists in the United States. The couple spent months at the hospital with Payton, which meant loss of work and a steady income for Patrick.
"Our foundation provides practical monetary relief in the form of fuel, food, housing (rent and mortgage) and travel expenses so the families can concentrate on their child's care and treatment," Wright said. She travels all over the country with her husband to pediatric cancer hospitals to assess family needs.
New Payton Wright Foundation Board member Steve Cavanaugh of Sarasota never met Payton but said he volunteered because he believes in the cause.
"We have so many great donors here but we've got to raise awareness nationally and get the word out to bigger donors," Cavanaugh said.
Doug and Tina Vollmer of Myakka City were hit hard with the news last December their 2-year-old son, Cooper, was diagnosed with brain cancer. The Wrights reached out to them almost immediately after the diagnosis.
"They gave us help we didn't know we needed. This is new to us and it's confusing. We have 60 weeks of chemotherapy to go but my wife and I are here tonight to support them," Doug Vollmer said. "If you can reach out to a family and pay their electric bill, that's huge."
The foundation will hold an annual golf tournament May 9 at Lakewood Ranch Country Club, and McNeal Elementary School in Bradenton is holding a "Hop to it, Feed the Frog" fundraiser where faculty and students donate change into frog buckets because Payton loved frogs. The school has already raised $4,000.
For more information about the Payton Wright Foundation, including Payton's story and coming fundraisers, go to paytonwright.org.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.