HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – It was May 2018 and the Wright family of Athens was getting ready to leave for a trip to Arizona.
They were headed west for a relative’s wedding.
With seven children, it had taken a lot of planning to arrange the trip and all the kids were looking forward to it.
The night before their departure, 13-year-old Elita Wright remembers, “we all tried on our bathing suits. I was walking by a mirror and I’m like, ‘that does not look right.'”
What she saw was a lump in her side. She showed her mom, Sophrona, who told her they needed to get it checked out. First thing in the morning, she took Elita to the clinic in Athens.
Doctors told her she wouldn’t be going anywhere except to Huntsville Hospital.
Sophrona Wright remembers her then 12-year-old daughter being mostly upset about her siblings missing out on their much-anticipated trip.
But Elita’s condition was serious. She had a collapsed lung that had filled with fluid. She also had a cancerous tumor. The diagnosis from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis was stage four Rhabdomyosarcoma.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is considered rare, with an estimated 350 children diagnosed each year. Yet, it’s still the most common form of soft-tissue sarcoma in children. In fact, it’s the same diagnosis another North Alabama family had received less than a year before.
At the time, the Wrights knew none of that. They were caught up in a whirlwind of hospitals, specialists and treatment discussions.
For the last 13 months, Elita has undergone one round of chemotherapy after another. The family moved from Athens to be closer to Huntsville Hospital.
“I pray a whole lot,” Sophrona Wright says.
She adds, “there were times that (Elita) was sleeping and I would wake up and I would go to see if she was still breathing. I would just pray next to her bed.”
While cancer treatment may define Elita’s days, it’s clear that cancer does not define her.
She is funny and artistic. She paints and crochets.
She is smart and thoughtful.
She says she doesn’t like to read but her vocabulary would put most adults to shame.
And she loves her family.
In fact, when referred to Make-A-Wish Alabama and asked what she would like best – Elita had one simple wish.
“I want to go visit my mom’s dad,” she says.
Elita has never gotten to meet her grandfather. None of her siblings have. They’ve Skyped but it’s not the same thing as finally getting to give him a hug.
He lives in Digby, Nova Scotia. A small fishing town more than 1,500 miles away, not easy to reach. If taking a family of nine to Arizona requires a lot of planning, imagine the logistics of arranging a journey to a remote part of Canada.
But with the help of Make-A-Wish Alabama, Elita is hoping to make it happen. Not just for herself but for her family. The beauty of a teenager making such a wish might surprise some but not anyone who has met Elita.
She says a lot of people ask her why she’s so positive. Her answer? “It makes me happy… and why would you be depressed if being positive makes it go away faster?”
One way to help Elita finally meet her grandfather is through the Wishes in Flight program. It allows people to donate airline miles to children on the Make-A-Wish waiting list. Right now, there are around 250 children in Alabama on the wait list. More than 80 of them are right here in North Alabama.
That’s why WHNT News 19 is partnering with Make-A-Wish Alabama for a special telethon on Thursday, June 20. From 4pm-7pm, we’ll be raising money to help grant the wishes of these critically ill Alabama children.
In the meantime, you’ll find more ways to help Elita and all the other children here. You can also donate directly by texting “wishes” to 243725.