By Agrippina Fadel
Alexus Benton almost lost her life last year.
Despite battling three autoimmune diseases, Alexus Benton, Miss Tamarac Petite, is stabilized enough to compete in Tampa’s Miss Florida Petite Pageant on January 15, 2022.
In 2020, Benton, 21, who lives near Prospect Road in Tamarac, was diagnosed with Lupus, Scleroderma, and Sjogren’s Syndrome — all autoimmune diseases.
She says the illnesses had changed her physically and mentally, but she stabilized her symptoms and hopes to raise $2,500 to cover fees, travel expenses, hair, makeup, and wardrobe.
Benton sees the pageant as an opportunity to tell her story and use its platform to raise awareness and cure those with multiple autoimmune diseases.
“I almost lost my life last year and realized — you only live once. I thought, ‘why not share my story to help others with the same issues,'” she added.
In November 2019, when Benton started the occupational therapy program at Mercer University in Georgia, her mother visited for Thanksgiving and noticed that her daughter’s eyes were swelling.
She got worried and took Alexus home.
Benton said it was a long journey to convince the insurance company to allow necessary tests and then go to several providers to perform them. Doctors at the University of Miami finally diagnosed her in October 2020.
“I lost 70 pounds and had to go through surgery to get a feeding tube. I could not swallow food on my own. The diseases also made it hard for me to talk. I lost most of my muscle mass and had to learn again how to walk and talk,” said Benton, adding that she also lost a lot of hair.
She explained that participating in the pageant is about embracing her confidence.
“I looked like a different person after I was diagnosed. I did not feel like myself. I did not feel pretty enough,” she said. “I think the pageant will help show that the real beauty is not about what is on the outside. I know I will be able to share my story and show that no matter what you go through in life, you can overcome it.”
Benton said getting better and signing up for the pageant is bittersweet. Her grandmother, Hilda Benton, who raised Alexus, passed away in April.
“The fact that she does not see me now doing better and going for this opportunity really makes me sad,” she said.
Florida Petite Pageant is a part of Petite USA, founded in 2009 as a platform for women 5’6 or less in the pageant industry. It is the nation’s largest pageant system for petite women. On Aug. 10-13, 2022, they hold the Miss Petite USA competition in Milwaukee.
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- Agrippina Fadel grew up in Siberia and received her master's in journalism from Tyumen State University. Agrippina is also a writer and editor at Draftsy.net. She has been a US resident for over ten years and speaks English and Russian.
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