‘What’s Lupus, Mama?’

Published 7:47 pm Saturday, April 30, 2011

Churchland woman uses her own struggle with lupus to inform others

Churchland resident Wanda Tann O’Loughlin was diagnosed with lupus in 1996 and soon found she had no way to explain the incurable disease to her children.

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that affects the entire body. When someone with lupus gets sick, antibodies often attack healthy organs and cells, thinking they are foreign invaders.

Book: Wanda Tann O’Loughlin was inspired to write “What’s Lupus, Mama?” after she had trouble finding children’s books that would explain the disease in simple terms to her children, who were 2 and 4 when she was diagnosed with lupus in 1996.


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O’Loughlin hoped she could find a book that would break down the details into simpler terms for her children, 2-year-old Brennan and 4-year-old Samantha.

She searched local libraries and bookstores, but she didn’t find anything of substance.

“There aren’t that many books to help families with this on that level,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I need to do something.’”

So, O’Loughlin decided she needed to write one herself.

Her dream became a reality when she wrote and published, “What’s Lupus, Mama?” almost 15 years later.

After postponing the book after her diagnosis, she revisited the idea after a flare-up that almost cost O’Loughlin her life.

In 2004, she was lying in a hospital bed, in severe pain, when she overheard family members and friends talking outside her room.

“It didn’t seem like they thought I was going to make it,” she said. “That was really daunting.”

She promised herself to finish the book if she ever got her strength back. She wrote the book in that same hospital bed.

“I knew exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it,” she said.

O’Loughlin worked through her lupus flare-ups to write and publish, “What’s Lupus, Mama?”

“When you have lupus, every day that you’re actually able to stand up and put your feet on the floor and you can take a breath and not have any pain, that’s a good day for you,” she said. “You never know what one day will bring.”

She said she decided to self-publish the book because it was the fastest way to get the book out, but it also meant she would be doing all the work.

Over the next five years, O’Loughlin cherished her good days when she could work all day, pushed through her bad days when she couldn’t get out of bed and worked to complete the book.

“What’s Lupus, Mama?” was released in October and tells the story of a mother who takes her children to visit her friend who needs care as she suffers a lupus flare-up.

She said she hopes the book provides people with education and information on the disease.

O’Loughlin wants to take the fear away about lupus, inform people that you can’t catch it from contact and create awareness about the disease.

“The way I’ve gotten written it just makes it so much easier for (children) to understand and not be afraid of,” she said.

The book was truly a family affair, O’Loughlin said. Her son did the illustrations, with help from a friend at his high school. Her husband, Steven, served as editor.

The help with her book is just a fraction of the support O’Loughlin said her family has had through her fight with lupus.

She said when she has a flare-up, her son and daughter, now teenagers, are the first ones to help her.

“With my son and my daughter, when I have a flare up, and they are in the house, my son is the first one to drop to his knees and pray, and my daughter puts her hands on me and goes into prayer mode,” O’Loughlin said.

Because of her lupus, her husband has had to take on a lot of pressure, but O’Loughlin said she is lucky that he has stuck with her.

“When he saw what it was doing to me, he stood strong,” she said. “He didn’t run.”

O’Loughlin said she is glad that something as positive as the book could come from her disease.

“I never thought people would see me as a strong person, but I’ve heard so many kind words along the lines of, ‘You really are strong,’” she said.