Still Writing: Sweets’ Story
Overcoming adversity, Sweets Wright vows to keep serving her community.
Sweets Wright was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. She decided early in her fight that it would only be one chapter in her life – not her whole story.
Today, she’s still writing.
“I have cancer, but it doesn’t have me. I can’t control it, but I can control what I do,” explains Wright. “My dad always told me, ‘It’s not about you.’” Sweets has certainly taken that sentiment to heart.
Having grown up in Papakōlea with seven siblings, Sweets understands the ongoing challenge of trying to make ends meet. “The struggle is real for so many families in Hawaii,” says Sweets. “My husband and I do our best to provide for our two children and seven grandchildren; but, even though we work, it’s difficult. If we have extra food, we share it with families who live on the beach.”
Giving is in her DNA. Sweets is a teacher for Partners in Development Foundation’s (PIDF) Ka Pa‘alana Traveling Preschool, which serves homeless encampments and shelters in Leeward O‘ahu. “We distribute canned goods and hygiene products to families,” says Sweets. “If there’s a keiki, kūpuna or someone with a disability – I make sure they’re eating. I’ve earned their trust.”
That trust comes from knowing what it’s like to struggle.
Sweets volunteers at Cedar Church in Kalihi and Wai‘anae, where families receive food provided from Hawaii Foodbank. “We have a big heart for Hawaii Foodbank because – if it wasn’t for you – a lot of families would not be fed,” reflects Sweets. “It’s a blessing with Hawaii Foodbank – we get variety, not just saimin!” she says with a chuckle.
Her giving heart was recently recognized with PIDF’s inaugural Pewa Award, which honored Sweets for her advocacy work. “I didn’t want to accept it because I love what I do,” explains Sweets. “If you’re not doing something from the heart, don’t do it. Don’t expect praise for what you do.”
It’s the lesson her father taught her as a child and one repeated by her mentor in another chapter of her life.
“Rell, my hula sister, used to always say the same thing as my dad, ‘Sweets – it’s not about us, it’s about the children,’” says Sweets in reflection. “When you see a keiki who needs help, you help them. I miss Rell Sunn.”
Her friend Rell was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1983 and was given one year to live. Over the next 14 years, her cancer went into remission three times. She underwent a mastectomy and a bone marrow transplant, yet she never stopped thinking about the keiki. Rell passed in 1998.
“I learned so much watching Rell fight cancer,” Sweets says about her mentor. “Then, when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, I realized what Rell meant to me. The cancer is now in my liver and lymph nodes.”
Sweets underwent chemotherapy but recently decided to end treatments because they interfere with her ability to do “her work.”
“The treatments make me tired and weak, and that’s not how I want to live,” asserts Sweets. “As long as I can walk and move, I’m going to give back. Helping this community is my calling; it’s what I love to do. I’m going to keep serving until God says, ‘no.’”
It’s what her dad and Rell would have wanted.