Halloween is around the corner but dressing up for Cristol Barrett O'Loughlin had nothing to do with Halloween but a way to fight her biggest life challenges. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Cristol has graciously shared her incredible story of how she beckoned her inner Wonder Woman to not only fight life's challenges but found a renewed sense of purpose to help others through her organization ANGEL AID CARES. Check out Cristol's incredibly inspirational story. She truly is Wonder Woman!
I’ve always loved dressing up.
Designing and wearing costumes has been a life-long expression of joy for me; a chance to be yet another version of myself. Taking on a new persona with makeup or a special jewelry or outrageous clothing has been a mechanism for escaping the stress of everyday life and a few situations most will never face.
This makes sense - this need to escape. By my 16th Birthday, three of my four older brothers had passed away from a rare genetic disease called Mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) also known as Hunters Syndrome. My parents did not know this deadly disease ran in our family and my brothers were born in rapid succession looking healthy and perfect. Then the second and third-born starting missing development milestones. Years of testing and misdiagnosis ensued, until the MPS diagnosis confirmed their worst fears.
Randy, David and Jared passed away at 12, 18 and 19 years old.
So costuming became a way for me to escape the sadness and ‘dress the part’ — become the role I needed or wanted to play, even if I didn’t always quite feel like it on the inside.
In junior high I wore a bolero hat to school - it was my “sophisticated, smart-girl” Molly Ringwald look. I stumbled around in sky-high heels and a red polka-dotted skirt in high school ‘causeGirls Just Wanna Have Fun! At UCLA, I morphed into a leafy jungle VINE (in a green body suit) for our Pi Beta Phi Pledge Party. To spice up our Mardi Gras trip, I dressed as a Jester flashing plastic boobs for beads. At IBM Sales Kickoff, I donned my Kilimanjaro mountain climber get-up and stood out so much, I landed a major promotion.
In 1999, I started ANGEL AID with a dozen of my fellow Pi Beta Phis - our goal was to fundraise for a cure to MPS (the disease that claimed my three oldest brothers). We transformed into a flock of Angels for our WISHCRAFT benefit - a dozen women with wings, halos and a fierce determination to make a difference.
And, we did!
One of our research grants from 2004 went through clinical trial and is the standard treatment for some types of MPS today — kids who would have passed away are now heading off to college. I know the power and the aura a costume can create.
Fast forward through twenty years of costuming moments. I’m at the top of my game, married to a hot guy (Jim) with a beautiful daughter (Chloe) and co-founder of global advertising firm (The Craftsman Agency). Jim is knocking it out of the park at AT&T, Chloe is dancing her way through life at Stapleton School of Performing Arts, and our agency is working with some of the biggest brands on the planet - Cisco, Disney and Google.
A routine mammogram and I have ER/PR+ Stage 2 Breast Cancer with a capital ‘C’.
I stood in front of my bedroom mirror that day and watched myself cry....
...and then I realized, I literally have NO REGRETS. All of the amazing moments of my life came flashing through my mind (yes, you really do see your life in a flash when you think you’re going to die!) Angel wings and jungle vines and fairies and mermaids were filling up my mind and I started laughing - and crying - and then laughing more than crying - and I decided right then, it is time to invoke the goddess:
“Hey CANCER! You’ve got nothing on ME!!! I am WONDER WOMAN and you aren’t welcome HERE!!” photo credit: Maisa Chaves
So it began. Weeks of gathering an amazing team - the most progressive doctors on the planet doing ‘nipple-sparing mastectomies’ (Dr Cheryl Ewing @ UCSF) and ‘simultaneous reconstructive plastic surgery’ (Dr Cynthia Goodman) and ‘aggressive hormone-therapy’ versus chemo-therapy (Dr Hope Rugo @ UCSF). (Note: Cancer treatments are very specific to the type and stage of cancer. Consult with your doctor.)
I dressed like Wonder Woman in some small way for every, single appointment - every surgery - every post-op check in - every day of recovery. She was my Bitmoji. She was on my coffee mug. She was my alter ego at theBoob-Voyage Party I threw myself.
The Wonder Woman cards and gifts started pouring in...I think it was something my friends and family could relate to, even if they couldn’t relate to Breast Cancer, they could believe that Wonder Woman would beat it.
On October 4th, I celebrated my three year ‘Breast Cancer Freeniversary’. My daughter Chloe and I held hands and quietly “thanked Hera!” as we walked in the Susan G Komen San Francisco Walk.
It was Wonder Woman who pulled me through. Invoking that goddess and a flock of Angels from childhood, adulthood, work, school, END06Mamas, Pi Beta Phis - a lifetime of family and friendships who watched me face the most difficult of circumstances in my own special way — in costume.
“I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”
- Diana,Wonder Womanmovie
Living with breast cancer has given me a new sense of purpose.
I am paying keen attention to my calling in life and returned to the philanthropic work of ANGEL AID — with a new focus on women, the mothers and caregivers who are caring for children with rare disease.
At ANGEL AID we believe in uplifting the family, by caring for the caregivers, particularly mothers. We offer wellness retreats, self-care training and relief services to help sustain these women. In October of 2020 we will celebrate our 20th Anniversary of ANGEL AID. We’ll be hosting a Halloween fundraiser called WISHCRAFT and I’ll be gathering our flock of Angels, our goddesses and mermaids, our firemen and warlocks too. And me? Well you know what I’ll be...
I’ll be donning that Wonder Woman costume in honor of all the women who have lost the fight, who are in the fight, and who remember the fight.
You’ve read my story and you’ve been lassoed with the truth -- Wonder Woman is in all of you!
Cristol Barrett O'Loughlin
For information about Cristol's organization and supporting their caregiver wellness programs please visitANGEL AID CARES.
For more information about preventing Breast Cancer please visitZeroBreastCancer.
Wonder Woman Photo credit: Warner Brothers
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