Angie Caldwell heard a story two years ago about a Huntley girl who suffered from an autoimmune disease and found her story amazing.
The story about Camille Paddock involved a mix of emotions – from anguish to despair to perseverance. Caldwell, who owned a cheerleading academy in Joliet at the time, needed to hear the story for herself and for the numerous girls enrolled in the academy.
She took to Facebook and discovered the group Cam’s Dare to be Different, a fledgling page on the social networking website started by Paddock.
It detailed Paddock’s bout with alopecia areata – the autoimmune disease that causes dramatic hair loss – and the subsequent bout with her peers. Starting in the fourth grade, Paddock was bullied for the disease, having to listen to her peers call her names such as “baldy” and “hairless cat.”
“She was being bullied everyday,” Caldwell said. “Instead of falling into herself and letting them win, she turned her experience into a positive.”
Caldwell connected with the Paddocks through Facebook and invited the young girl to speak to her cheerleading academy. It was one of the earlier speaking events for Paddock, who almost two years later has spoken to thousands of students about her experience with alopecia and bullying.
Caldwell and five others nominated Paddock as an Everyday Hero. Although honored, Paddock said the nominations reflect the work she’s done since starting the Facebook group and making it her mission to rally against bullying and teen suicide.
Paddock, now a sophomore at Huntley High School, has told her story at countless school assemblies throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured in Woman’s World Magazine and Today’s Chicago Woman magazine, and she’s appeared on WGN-TV for a news segment. She is finishing a book – expected to be released later this year – about her story.
“I want to get to as many kids as possible, and I want bullying to stop,” Paddock said. “I feel very passionate about it. I want people to realize words hurt, and they can kill.”
Doctors diagnosed Paddock with alopecia at 8 years old after her mom discovered bald spots on her head. Although not life-threatening, the autoimmune disease causes balding and, in some cases, total hair loss.
Paddock lives with alopecia since there is no cure for it. But in the fourth grade, she started hearing insults from her classmates about her appearance.
As the years dragged, the insults continued. Paddock said her self-esteem plummeted, along with her grades.
Paddock credited her mom as the motivating force to start the Facebook group Cam’s Dare to be Different, meant as an outlet for Paddock to connect with other kids who were being bullied.
More than two years after creating the group, Paddock now sees other kids approach her after speaking events crying and telling her how they’ve found someone who understands bullying. Others have told her that they didn’t realize their words could hurt, Paddock said.
“It really makes me feel good that I’m touching people just by sharing my story,” she said.
“I’m opening other people’s minds to how their words are affecting people.”