This Thursday, March 30, is the Wilton Woman’s Club annual Fashion Show fundraiser. Each year, a handful of members model fashions of the season during a luncheon and benefit. One Woman’s Club member who will be modeling is Wilton resident Victoria Madden.

It was exactly this time last year that Victoria walked the runway for the first time and enjoyed it very much. Little did she know then that, just a couple months later, her life would change forever when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I’ve been through hell and back,” she says now, as she prepares to lend her time once more as one of the fashion show models for this year’s event. “We all take our health for granted. Last year at this time, none of this had happened. Every now and then I just stop and think, it hasn’t been that long–six or seven months.”

She was a new club member last year, and loved getting involved with the community service activities that the Woman’s Club promotes.

“That’s what drew it to me in the first place. I’ve done outreach things, whether it was through the scouts, teaching religion class at church, doing the science fairs at the school, being involved in the PTA. That was the piece of the Woman’s Club that was the most interesting,” Victoria says, adding that she regrets how her cancer diagnosis prevented her from being as involved with community service this year. “I don’t think I’ve been able to contribute as much as I would have liked, just because of things that have happened.”

Victoria discovered the lump in her breast in late May/early June of 2016, and was officially diagnosed at the end of July. She learned the type of breast cancer she had was triple-negative, which tends to be the most aggressive kind of breast cancer. She met with a surgeon in August, and started chemotherapy right away.

“The size of the tumor was why they wanted do the chemo first to try to reduce the size. Mine started at 25 mm in diameter, and it was reduced down to 2-3 mm, which is significant. Chemo is not fun, that’s for sure,” she explains.

But if there was any silver lining, it was discovering how the people in this town that she’s called home for 13 years rose to the occasion of helping her when she needed it most.

“The people in this town really do pull together for other people in the community. People rally around, they help however they can. Friends put together a website for helping with meals and the kids. It’s humbling to be in that position. After you’re one of those people who likes to do the helping, it’s hard to accept help. The whole experience, humbling is the most accurate word I can come up with.”

She had lumpectomy surgery just before Christmas, and after biopsy tests it was determined that the cancer was gone. Shortly thereafter, she began four weeks of daily radiation, and now is in the final phase of oral chemotherapy for 26 weeks, something that’s been shown to reduce reoccurrence rates in triple-negative breast cancer patients.

“Triple negative–we’re in our own little category. It’s not necessarily the category you want to be in but you don’t get to choose,” she says. Still she takes it in stride. “I don’t know any other way to do things. You put your head down and go through it. It’s day by day, but even within the day, it’s hour by hour, minute by minute. You can feel really rotten, and a couple hours later you maybe you feel a little bit better.”

The experience has certainly changed her perspective.

“You look at things and see what their really value is, or how important they really are. It makes you appreciate. After I was done with the chemo, I was just so happy to go run to the grocery store, or running errands, dropping the kids off. You appreciate the things that you never thought…” she trails off, her voice almost breaking. “It’s humbling.”

While Victoria does admit to being more emotional now, she also says she has stayed true to keeping a positive outlook.

“All the support that I had, my friends… You can either go down that path of negative, or you can look at the more positive thing of things. That’s how I choose to live my life.”

Taking the Fashion Show Path

Deciding to walk in this year’s Woman’s Club Fashion Show was part of that positive outlook on life. This time, Victoria is proudly walking after conquering a very trying year.

“It’s a little scary, it’s out of my comfort zone. But you have to hold your head high. Sometimes life throws things at you and you don’t get a choice, and you just have to pick yourself up and carry on. That happens to all of us at different stages in our life, and we don’t know where that strength comes from. But you muster it up.”

She relates it to the cause that the fashion show luncheon benefits–the Wilton Youth Council‘s initiative to educate the community about substance abuse.

“I’m happy they’re doing this cause. That’s a huge struggle. People who can get through that sort of thing, that’s a lot of strength. All of us know people who have been affected by addictions, and it’s hard to watch. You try to support them. In certain ways it’s not so different from what I’ve been through. I felt like I had such support from my friends, that’s what people going through addictions need as well, people who will stand by them and help them get through what they’re going through.”

Getting out of her comfort zone, Victoria says, was a good challenge, so she talked with Dianne DeWitt, the Woman’s Club member produces the fashion show each year. “I said, ‘If you’ll have me, I may or may not have hair.’ She laughed and said, ‘Of course!’ I’m excited and I think it will be fun–and a little scary,” she laughs.

She will bring a different sort of confidence with her when she takes those steps down the runway.

“I look back, and it’s been a rough six or seven months. I have been through a lot. But I feel great, I feel so good these days.”

One thing Victoria wants people to know about what she’s been through is how they can help other people going through breast cancer.

“Unfortunately, I know of 2-3 people in town who have been diagnosed since I was, it just seems to be way too prevalent. When people say, ‘Let me know how I can help,’ sometimes you just have to do things–don’t wait to be asked. It’s hard to ask for help. Just by doing things to help those people who are going through hardship. In an unobtrusive way–people would leave baked goods. I’d go outside and find a little bag of scones. Just those little gestures really mean a lot.”

Certainly the gesture of her walk, showing what she’s overcome and how she’s faced it with grace and strength will inspire the people in the audience.

“I’m pretty open about it. I haven’t done the wig, so it’s fairly obvious. People reached out to me, and having someone to relate to what you’re going through. If I can help someone else as much as I feel people helped me, I’d love to do that. I know how much it helped me.”

Tickets for the Woman’s Club Fashion Show are still on sale (although today may be the last day they can be purchased). Visit the Wilton Woman’s Club website for more information or to buy tickets.