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Photography by T Taylor Photography

Yolanda Origel is not used to being taken care of. After her mother passed away of breast cancer when she was just 10 years old, she assumed the caregiver role for her siblings. Continuing that legacy through adulthood, seven years ago she obtained guardianship of her then 15-year-old nephew and she has served as a caregiver for her developmentally disabled brother for the past 20 years. When she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer at age 31 however, her whole life turned upside down. “It was a crazy whirlwind,” Origel said, “I’ve always been the one to take care of people, so it was hard to ask for help – it was hard to show weakness.”

Four years later and cancer free, Origel strutted down the runway at St. Joseph Hospital’s annual Circles of Life Fashion Show as a strong, empowered, survivor. The recent fashion show, held at the Hilton Anaheim Hotel had 1,000 guests in attendance – from doctors and hospital staff, to 200 cancer survivors and their loved ones.

Twenty seven models walked the runway in designer fashions from retailers such as Trina Turk, Macy’s and White House Black Market and $100,000 was raised in support of The Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph Hospital.

“This event is a wonderful opportunity to recognize some of the amazing stories of survival from the patients we see at the Center every day,” said Cindy Tran, DO, St. Joseph Hospital hematologist-oncologist and chair of the fashion show. “These models are an inspiration to all of us and provide much needed hope to everyone who has been touched by cancer.”

Steve Kassajikian, a crowd favorite at the fashion show for his flair for fashion and runway moves, said that being a part of the fashion show experience was amazing. “I was really nervous right before I went on,” he said, “but once the crowd starts cheering, you feed off their energy and just don’t care anymore.”

Diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at just 23 years old, Kassajikian worked through his treatment – and even reached some career milestones along the way. As an account manager for Urban Decay at Ulta Beauty, he was the first to have three of his territories be recognized as being in the top 5 nationwide (out of 410 stores) to show the most progress – all while undergoing treatment. He said his journey was made easier by the staff and physicians at the Cancer Center. “It was one of the best decisions I made going to the Cancer Center,” he said. “I actually looked forward to treatments because I knew I would be around this amazing team – they brightened my day.”

Although the fashion and fundraising made for an entertaining event, the models agreed that the most rewarding part of the day was being able to show their loved ones – who saw them through their worst – what they look like at their best. “For my family and friends to see me in a healthy light and celebrate life with them was so rewarding,” Origel said, “It was our time to shine.”

The Circles of Life Fashion Show is an annual event for the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation and has raised more than $1 million for the Center in its 15 year history. The Center is the first of its kind in Orange County and one of only a few in the nation offering the latest in preventative care, diagnostics, treatment and clinical trials and its cutting-edge facility and cancer programs allow our specially trained physicians to perform research and discover new treatments and therapies for cancer.

www.sjo.org