Shelton child cancer survivor overcomes obstacles
Shelton's own Victoria Diaz is one tough cookie. At the age of 5, she has had to battle and overcome cancer twice. She has braved the treatments, soaked up the attention she received, and is always ready for a photo.
“She loves the papparazzi,” her mom said.
Victoria will be the honorary chair at Circle of Care’s 5K run to prevent childhood cancer on Sunday, May 5, at 8:30 a.m., in Wilton Center.
This will be the fifth running of the 5K to benefit the organization that provides emotional, practical, and financial support to families facing their child being diagnosed with cancer. Participants may run as individuals, join a team, or form a team of their own.
Team Victoria will be one of the teams running to honor the little girl who has twice had to face a diagnosis of childhood rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer in which malignant cells form in muscle tissue. In Victoria’s case the cancer was in her leg. She was only one year old when it was discovered.
“Our life changed within the blink of an eye,” her mother, Emily Padilla, said. “One day, we are celebrating her birthday, and a month later we are pumping chemo into her.”
Doctors at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital told Emily and her fiancé, Frank Diaz, Victoria had an inoperable tumor in her lower leg. As a result, she received chemotherapy treatments once a week for 10 months. In addition, she had radiation therapy Monday through Friday for six weeks.
At the end of it, she was in remission for two and a-half years when a follow-up scan revealed the tumor had returned in the same place.
Since she was now 4, and the tumor was small, doctors felt they could operate on Victoria to remove it.
“They removed her whole muscle and half her [tibia] bone,” Padilla said. Doctors were able to replace the lost bone with new bone.
“She had a really hard recovery, she was bound to a wheelchair, then a cast, then a brace,” Padilla said. Again, she received chemotherapy once a week for 10 months.
“We finished the last round two weeks ago,” she said, and scans showed Victoria is cancer-free, although more scans are scheduled.
Through it all, Victoria attended kindergarten at Elizabeth Shelton School in Shelton, where the family lives. She attended when she could and went back full time last week.
From the beginning, Circle of Care was there to help the family. “Circle of "Care has been in our lives the past four years, helping financially and emotionally,” Padilla said.
Victoria has a big sister, 10-year-old Kiara, with whom she shares a room. Circle of Care’s Art from the Heart team came in and did a room makeover for them.
“They made it into a beautiful rainbow palace,” Padilla said, describing it as “an incredible experience that brought my girls closer together.”
As difficult as Victoria’s ordeal was on her, it took a big toll on Kiara as well, “especially hearing it is happening again,” Padilla said. That burden was lessened by Circle of Care which invited the family to holiday parties and special events, all of which served “as a great distraction,” Padilla said.
The financial support the organization provided “lifted a little worry off our shoulders for a few months, helping us with rent, gas and groceries.”
Perhaps most meaningful of all, was the photographed family portrait they received through the Life Within the Journey program. “That meant the world to me,” Padilla said.
Circle of Care
Circle of Care has helped some 2,000 families face childhood cancer for 16 years. There are about 600 children in treatment in Connecticut at any one time.
While more than 85 percent of children with cancer will survive five years or more, the number of cases diagnosed continues to climb with the incidence of pediatric cancer up 29 percent over the past 40 years.
Circle of Care, which operates out of one of the historic barns at Lambert Corner on Route 7, works closely with social workers and child life specialists at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital/Smilow Cancer Center and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center to deliver its programs.
Those programs and services include:
Art from the Heart — which transforms a child’s room at home into a “dream room.”
Lifeline — a resource for newly diagnosed families, which includes a telephone mentor program and a closed social media site for families.
Lifeline Emergency Fund — which helps alleviate some of the financial difficulties families face.
The newest program is Bounce Back to Fitness for children coming off treatment to help them regain strength, stamina, agility and confidence. The six-week program began April 6 and is offered in partnership with Wilton-based CT Fitness Lab and Dynamic Edge Physical Therapy.
Circle of Care’s website says: We can’t change the diagnosis, but we can bring a measure of relief along the journey. We can change moments. We can let these families know they’re not alone.
Emily Padilla would agree. When asked what she would tell other families about Circle of Care, she said, “I would tell them they are great resources, they connect you with other charities, they’re a great distraction for the kids and help the parents lift a worry off their shoulders, even if for a little while.
“Just hearing the word your child has cancer a second time, I’m not sure what was more devastating, that time or the first,” Padilla said. “They were still there to help me the second time. Their motto is ‘Until no family has to hear the words ‘your child has cancer.’ I love it.”