Candice Patterson | Courageous Competitor

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Candice tackles neurofibromatosis like triathlons: a steady fitness regimen of exercise and meditation. Through her organization Butterfly Challenge, the Riverview paramedic’s inspiring others to overcome adversity and win.

Hailing from the Baltimore/Washington DC area, Candice lived here for ten years while growing up then moved away to cities such as Savannah and Jacksonville after high school. When she returned to Tampa Bay to visit with friends, what started as a temporary stop became a permanent move, leading her to later meet her husband and build what she considers a treasured collection of great friends. “People attracted to me have to be kind, open and genuine to take the time to get to know me,” she says.

Candice was born with the neuro-genetic disease neurofibromatosis, with tumor growth beneath her face. After spending much of her early life in and out of surgeries to remove the tumors and create facial symmetry, she decided she’d had enough. “I was in my 20s and just wanted to live my life without being a patient anymore, so I took a break from surgeries,” she says. She admits that she didn’t check in with doctors again for another ten years and during that time, her balance and vision got progressively worse. In 2005, doctors discovered tumors again on her face that could cost permanent loss in her eye and she returned to the surgical table once again for back-to-back operations.

At this time, she also had completed her first triathlon and soon realized that she could approach her surgical challenges that lay ahead the same way she tackled a new race. Thus began the Butterfly Challenge. “I treated each surgery like training for a race – ate right, meditated, slept enough, worked toward healing properly so I would be at the optimum health before the challenge,” she says. “I wouldn’t allow my family to call them surgeries anymore. They became the Butterfly Challenge.”

As Candice kept having surgeries and participating in local 5ks and triathlons, people would comment on how much she inspired them. She began to use the races and appearances as opportunities to raise funds and awareness for the Children’s Tumor Foundation and also participated in a few shorter races for the American Cancer Society. “Everyone has always told me ‘you’re so strong.’ I felt in order to tell my story completely, with the pain, the swelling and the stitches, I had to show others that it could be done. It’s a lot that I go through but by showing others, it might help them see that if they are suffering from some kind condition or illness, they can get better and will heal if they just keep going.” Donations raised by Candice and her race teammates that participate as the Butterfly Challenge team go to research at the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

A paramedic at St. Joseph’s Emergency Trauma Center, Candice says her own extensive experience as a hospital patient is a real asset on the job. “It’s very challenging work, but I can bring a sense of calm to patients I meet because I’ve been there before. I believe in integrated health, helping patients heal from disease and injury from a combination of Eastern and Western medicine and personally use nutrition, spirituality, sports and meditation to help me focus on my own health.”

Since starting the Butterfly Challenge, Candice has finished 10 triathlons and over a dozen 5k races. “I’m a natural swimmer and love to bike, but I actually hate running. I just worked on my running so I could do the triathlons.” She says that during her downtime between surgeries (and races) that yoga has helped the healing process.

Candice would love to take part in more public speaking opportunities so she might share her story. She’d like to bring more awareness to neurofibromatosis and inspire others to overcome adversity and to learn how to better interact with people who look different than themselves.

She and husband Jason, also a paramedic, live in Valrico with their two dogs.