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Why Miss Virginia State University went public with her private health concerns

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ETTRICK, Va. — When Lauren Papillion, 22, was crowned Miss Virginia State last year, she did so while dealing with a health issue many of her VSU classmates did not know about at the time. Since winning the crown, Lauren has decided to publicly share her health story. Lauren Papillion has Lupus.

“Many people look at me and don’t think I face any trials or tribulations,” the Suffolk native said. “But the biggest one I face is my health. Being required to attend many events, conferences, and so on with my title, is challenging when your body needs rest. Lupus is very up and down. One moment I’m okay and the next I’m so low.”

Lauren Papillion

Lauren Papillion

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs inside the body), according to the Lupus Foundation of America. Signs and symptoms can last weeks or even years.

Those symptoms can include extreme fatigue, headaches painful or swollen joints and fever, among other things.

With her outgoing, sassy, and honest personality, Papillion was able to hide the pain behind her illness.

Lauren Papillion

Lauren Papillion

“It’s something I have learned,” she said. “[I let] my personality speak before my illness.”

Papillion found comfort talking about her illness serving as a facilitator for the Girls Inc. Program. The girls at Girls Inc. were also one of the biggest reasons Papillion competed in the Miss Virginia State University pageant.

“I did this for the little girls back at Girls Inc. Tri-cities,” she said. “They needed someone to believe in and they needed someone who they have related to. My little girls in my class needed to see an example of how you can achieve when you believe in yourself.”

Papillion strives to be a strong role model to young girls, just like her role models — her mother and grandmother. Those women, along with the rest of her family, make up her strongest support system.

“Both of those women molded me into everything I needed to be,” she said. “They felt they didn’t want me to make the same mistakes they made and pushed me to want better for myself. I am forever grateful for that. Through their tough love and guidance, she has been able to develop some strong morals that she hopes to pass on to others, Perseverance, Prayer, and Progression (in that order). These three actions are what help Lauren get through her health journey and serve as a testimony to others.”

Papillion, who will graduate with a mass communications degree next month, plans to pursue a career as a public relations specialist.

This story was contributed by Summer Sawyer, a mass communications student at Virginia State University.