RIVERVIEW, Fla. - Candice Patterson works as an ER nurse healing people’s bodies.
In her spare time, she helps heal others’ spirit as an inspirational speaker, writer and founder of ButterflyChallenge.com.
Born with a tumor on the right side of her face due to a condition called neurofibromatosis, she’s “faced” many challenges, including approximately 30 surgeries.
“My jaw’s been broken in four places," she said. "They had to get a tumor off my optic nerve so I had my whole orbit removed. And throughout my entire life, I’ve at different times lost every sense know to man.”
Patterson chose to keep her chin up and use her life story to inspire others.
“And about one in 4,000 kids right now are born with neurofibromatosis," she said. "I like to be able to show the children that even though you have a facial deformity, you’re going to be able to accomplish anything you want. You are going to be able to go to school, you’re going to be able go to prom, you’re going to be employed.”
Patterson has been a guest speaker in schools for about 12 years.
Since the movie Wonder, based on the best-selling novel, hit theaters in November 2017, her schedule has filled up.
“When Wonder came out, I got invited to a lot of classrooms where they were reading this and they needed a live example of the book that they were reading," Patterson said.
Mulrennen Middle School art teacher Holly Gaw recently invited her into the classroom.
“Well Ms Candy has such an important message because bullying today is happening so often," she said. "I love it that she can come into the classroom, talk to the students and say hey this happened to me. This happens to everyone but you know what I rose above it. I changed my life. And I’ve become a successful person because of it.”
'Kind, compassionate humans'
Patterson wants students to understand that it's okay to be different.
“I hope that they take a way a better understanding of people that they meet that are different from them," she said. "I hope that they become a person that reflects on how their action and behavior affect others. I hope to give them a compass and confidence to go forward with the things that frighten them. So, I want them to be strong, kind, compassionate humans.”
Cupid’s Undie Run, the largest fundraiser in the nation for neurofibromatosis, takes place in St. Petersburg on Saturday.
If you want to run and/or donate to find a cure, click here.
Those interested in following Patterson's journey can do so here.