Breaking Barriers: From Single Mom to Pharmacist to Cancer Survivor to Advocate

By Corrie Pellegrino - February 05, 2024

Editor’s Note: Dr. Vondalyn Wright recently joined Moffitt Cancer Center’s Patient and Family Advisory Council. Through diverse perspectives and shared experiences, the council engages patients and caregivers to enhance Moffitt’s ability to provide patient-centered care. This partnership ensures Moffitt leadership actively involves patients in decision-making that ultimately impacts the health care experiences for all patients.

Dr. Vondalyn Wright is a pharmacist, entrepreneur, health care advocate and breaker of glass ceilings. As a young single mother of two, she was working as a pharmacy tech in a grocery store when she decided to go back to school and pursue a college degree. She started classes at Hillsborough Community College and eventually went on to earn her doctorate of pharmacy from Florida A&M University.

After 20 years of working in corporate America, she ventured out on her own five years ago and opened Health Matters, a neighborhood pharmacy serving her hometown community. In October 2023, she expanded her vision for providing health care services for underserved communities by opening The Well, a resource that helps people overcome common barriers to care. As an entrepreneur, Wright’s drive to always do more has led her to launch a nonprofit foundation, open a restaurant and embark on various business ventures with her family. Now, as a member of Moffitt’s Patient and Family Advisory Council, Wright brings her endless energy, passion and unique perspective to making Moffitt a better place for all.   

Can you tell us about your work?

When I decided to open my own pharmacy, I knew I wanted to serve the community. We originally opened on 50th Street, which was a little distant from the inner community, but I found that a lot of my patients are right here in the community. At the same time, my husband owned a piece of commercial real estate that was being used as a nightclub. We decided to close the nightclub and make it into a “well” of services for the community. The Well now houses the pharmacy as well as a primary care doctor, infusion space, an insurance consultant, a patient transport service and mental health services. There’s also space on the patio to host events. Some of the barriers that my patients were facing, they can get help overcoming them at The Well.

Dr. Vondalyn Wright and family
Wright has raised her two sons, Rayquan, 27, and Sammie, 24, to share the same entrepreneurial spirit as her and her husband, Marlon.

How did you get into the health care field?

I grew up in the inner city of Tampa. My mom was on drugs. My dad ended up in prison. So I didn’t have a lot of guidance growing up. I never dreamed of going to college. I had my first baby young, and I went to work at a grocery store as a cashier. My son’s father had gone to prison, so by then I was a single parent of one. It was just that cycle. I just lived up to my highest expectations at the time.

A pharmacist at the grocery store took note of me, though. She asked if I wanted to work as a pharmacy technician. I took everything I did seriously, and I was the best pharmacy technician there could be. Later, another pharmacist invited me to a staff gathering at his house. It was in a gated community on a lake. I had never been to a place like that, and I wondered what was the difference between he and I? I realized the only difference was education. So I decided to sign up for school. The Boys & Girls Club helped watch my two boys while I worked, and I went on to college and eventually earned my doctorate.

I’m a true believer that you are a product of your environment. I don’t think many of us can escape that, but I think for me it was seeing different. I had never seen different, so I didn’t know any different. That’s why I encourage everybody. That’s why I give people a chance. I beat all the odds that were put up against me. That’s why I’m in the neighborhood, and I wear my white coat so that people can see different. They can see somebody who looks like them doing something that they are capable of doing.

Can you talk about your connection to cancer?

In 2020, I noticed a lump in my breast, but I didn’t think it was the most essential thing at the time with the pandemic. And as an entrepreneur, I didn’t have insurance. In February 2021, I went for a mammogram, and it came back showing calcification. After a diagnostic mammogram and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with stage 2 cancer in my left breast that had spread to my lymph node. I was devastated. I’m in the prime of my life. I’m too busy to go through something like cancer.

I started out going to a small, private doctor because I thought I would get better service. Once I got insurance, I made an appointment at Moffitt. From there, we hit the ground running. I decided to do a double mastectomy. But I was hesitant to do chemotherapy. I trusted my oncologist, but chemotherapy is devastating. Now I’m so glad that I did it because I gave myself the best chance to live.

As a patient, what perspective do you bring to the Patient and Family Advisory Council?

I wanted a provider who looks like me, and I think Moffitt does a good job at having diverse practitioners. My radiation oncologist, Dr. Iman Washington, just walked me through everything. So I’ve had a really good experience.

But the one thing that puzzled me was that every time I went to Moffitt, I did not see a lot of other patients who looked like me. At first, I thought, is it that people who look like me are not sick? Then I realized there are a lot of barriers to getting into a place like Moffitt.

I wanted to do something about that. That’s why I joined the Patient and Family Advisory Council, because I want everybody’s voices to be heard. I think everybody does have a perspective that we can learn from. I already thought Moffitt was the best place. But I really want to know: What can we do better? How do we get Moffitt to be more diverse? How do we get more people into Moffitt? And I know there’s answers coming to all of those questions.

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Corrie Pellegrino Senior Managing Editor 813-745-0833 More Articles

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