LAKEWOOD RANCH — Patrick and Holly Wright can’t easily forget the moments when people didn’t understand their daughter’s disease.
Or when they themselves watched Payton strapped down for radiation treatments.
Or worse yet, when Patrick carried his 5-year-old child’s lifeless body from their home May 29, 2007.
The heartache is still fresh. Painfully fresh.
Since Payton’s death, the Wrights have waged war against pediatric brain cancer, the disease that took their her life, and have worked hard to raise awareness of the illness and funding for research and for families grappling with the disease.
Their latest project is a documentary called “Payton’s Song.” The Wright family and the company that produced the film, 10Goal Productions, will learn March 5 whether the documentary made it into the Sarasota Film Festival.
“We’re kind of on pins and needles,” Producer and Director Suzanne Thompson said. “It’s such a compelling, gut-wrenching project.”
The film documents Payton’s illness through interviews with friends and family, video clips of her radiation treatments and other events.
“It think that part of it is very personal,” Patrick Wright said. “It shows what the reality is of what these children go through and what these families go through.”
Holly Wright agreed.
“We have got to get the awareness, and you’re not going to understand until you see the raw deal,” she said. “This is what it was like. This can happen to you. This can happen to your child. We want to make that thought process come to the surface and for people to say, ‘Oh my, I had no idea.’ It’s not the cute little picture on the poster you see. It’s horrific.”
A PERFECT STORM
The team from 10Goal Productions knew they were getting the story of lifetime after it completed a segment on the Payton Wright Foundation in November 2009 when country music star David Nail came to Lakewood Ranch Main Street as the headliner for the St. Andrews Scottish Festival.
“When we drove around, (my husband and I) looked at each other and said, We need to do a documentary,’” Suzanne Thompson said. “We dropped everything.”
The Wrights knew the process would be difficult and emotionally draining as they relived memories such as taking Payton to her radiation treatments and images of her face swollen by steroids.
But the end result, they said, will have a far-lasting impact.
“As hard as it is for us, we keep thinking how hard it was for Payton,” Holly Wright said. “This is nothing.”
The crew from 10Goal Productions — Suzanne and Eric Thompson and Suzanne’s son, Austin Gleitsman — spent hours conducting interviews and editing footage. The end product isn’t just a film, they said, but the inspiration Payton’s given them and others.
“It’s hard nowadays to believe in people,” “Suzanne Thompson said. “Can one life make a difference anymore? And I proved to myself (through this film), (it) can. This is what Payton has given to us.
At times, the Wrights wish they’d never taken their story public — that they’d kept to themselves and fought their battle aside their friends and families. But in each moment that passes, they remember that simply wouldn’t be enough.
“We have to do it for all the other kids,” Holly Wright said.
The documentary is just one way to do that. Although its sure to stir the emotions and inspire plenty of tears, its also is one of hope, producers said. It shows how a community rallied around Payton and her family and how that support can make a difference.
The Wrights said they are hopeful filmgoers will come away not only with an awareness of brain cancer, but also an understanding of how cancer affects families.
“You have no focus other than, ‘What do I have to do for her today?’” Patrick Wright said. “You have your blinders on.”
But life itself doesn’t stop. There are still bills to pay and tasks that have to get done. The Wrights hope their story will inspire others to actively care for families in similar situations by offering to meet their needs, whether by making them dinner, helping pay for gas for hospital visits or providing other financial or emotional support.
“If you’re human, you will be sad,” Holly Wright said of the film. “But I also hope you walk away going, ‘I’m going to do something.”
Suzanne Thompson said she also entered the film in a festival in California. Aside from that, she hopes to set up showings of “Payton’s Song” at theaters throughout the country, at which people will be able make donations to the Payton Wright Foundation.
“We’re going to reach a lot of people with a lot of different ways,” she said.
For more information about the Payton Wright Foundation, visit www.paytonwright.org.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].