How Brownies helped me through breast cancer

When Michelle Main-Miller was diagnosed with breast cancer she found strength in her Brownies and the parents around her

Michelle Main-Miller, Leader at 2nd Hamble Brownies
17 October 2019
Michelle Main-Miller

Michelle Main-Miller

Michelle, 49, is Brown Owl at 2nd Hamble Brownies as well as being a full-time teacher, wife, and mum to one teenage boy. 

In September 2017 I arranged an afternoon cream tea event to raise money for Macmillan with the support of my unit (2nd Hamble Brownies) and my fellow guiders in Hound District. This event was arranged in memory of one of our Brownie mum's who lost her courageous battle with breast cancer. This was my first encounter with breast cancer and little did I know then I would come to know so much about the subject. In July 2018 I discovered a lump in my left breast and by August I was diagnosed with Stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma in my breast and lymph nodes.

Who would have thought Brownies could become a distraction to such a diagnosis?

Who would have thought Brownies could become a distraction to such a diagnosis? I remember the day after my diagnosis the breast care nurse rang to give me the date for my CT scan. This was to check if the cancer had spread. She gave me the date and I immediately said, “I can't do that, I’m going on pack holiday”. She reminded me of the seriousness of this appointment and I agreed and resigned myself to the fact I would arrive late.

The pack holiday held at Foxlease was the best tonic for me. 

The pack holiday held at Foxlease was the best tonic for me. However it did mean I had to face up to my diagnosis and inform my Brownie parents. I made them promise not to tell the girls. My team were fantastic and Emma (Wise Owl) who was running the pack holiday and Carolyn (District Commissioner) immediately drafted in extra guiders to help. That pack holiday meant I didn't have to think about the ‘what ifs’ for a while.

Every week my target is to get to Brownies.

September came and we returned to Brownies as normal. In October I had surgery to remove the tumour and lymph nodes and have my breasts reconstructed. I missed Brownies that week, but I returned the next Thursday. Every week my target is to get to Brownies.

I began wearing a headscarf to Brownies, the girls never asked why. 

Chemotherapy started in November and by the second cycle I had lost my hair. I began wearing a headscarf to Brownies, the girls never asked why. I missed three sessions during chemotherapy. During this time, we asked for some help from parents so we had an extra pair of hands. We were lucky that Sarah, one of our mum's, volunteered to help and we soon spotted leadership material in her. Sarah accepted the offer to join our leadership team and threw herself into completing her leadership qualification with gusto.

My team of five leaders Abi, Emma, Hannah, Helen and Sarah have been a huge source of support to me and despite my illness, we continued to run a successful unit and deliver the new programme.

Now there are five of us battling this disease in just one Brownie pack.

I’m always upfront with new parents and tell them about my breast cancer, so no one is left wondering about the scarf-wearing guider. This has led to two parents confiding in me that they are fighting it too. During my journey I have written a blog called Me, You, Us and Breast Cancer which I have shared with my parents. This blog ended up helping another one of my Brownie mum's. Then one day in clinic a person greeted me with “Hello Brown Owl?”. There was another Brownie mum whose daughter had left us about a year ago. So now there are five of us battling this disease in just one Brownie pack.

I launched the support group to the surrounding villages to support both women and men who are battling breast cancer, or who have finished their battle and are left with the emotional and physical scars.

This set me to thinking about what I could do to help. I contacted all the ladies and suggested we meet to support one another and to share experiences, friendship and laughter. Amazingly these ladies never knew one another. Now we meet regularly and are called the ‘Breast of Friends’. After the success of this meeting, I launched the support group to the surrounding villages to support both women and men who are battling breast cancer, or who have finished their battle and are left with the emotional and physical scars. We have about 20 members.

The parents at 2nd Hamble have been amazing and so supportive and kind.

I have now completed chemotherapy and radiotherapy and my hair is beginning to grow back. I still have treatment every three weeks at present. Currently, in our unit we support three girls whose mum’s have cancer and these girls know they can talk to myself or other guiders for support. The parents at 2nd Hamble have been amazing and so supportive and kind.

So out of a negative has grown a positive, with Girlguiding actively supporting others in the community.    

Talking about cancer

If you're worried about talking to children or teenagers about cancer, visit the Macmillan website for advice and support.

Macmillan