Way before the Pink Posse Philes came to fruition, Bren Miller was doing what most of us do – living a normal life. Prior to her breast cancer diagnosis Bren was a mother and wife, a musician who taught piano and classical guitar, and to her way of thinking, a healthy woman. Since she had no cancer in her family, ran marathons, lifted weights, and in general lived a very active life, she had no idea she could be at risk. All of that changed when she was diagnosed in 2007.
When Bren recalls that moment, it’s obvious the timing couldn’t have been much worse. “My husband and I have moved around a lot. We’d lived in Dallas, Chicago and southern Florida, so I was no stranger to a change of scenery. I think one crazy part of my diagnosis was the fact my husband was retiring and we were making yet another move, this time to South Carolina. The day we were actually moving here was the day I got the call telling me that I had breast cancer.”
To give some idea of just how little she knew about breast cancer, Bren says, “I didn’t even know what a lump felt like. I really didn’t know. I felt a little hard kernel like popcorn. I had my husband feel it and he thought I had just done something lifting weights. I’d already had my mammogram so I waited seven or eight months and decided to talk to my doctor about it. It didn’t show up on my next mammogram. It wasn’t until they did the ultrasound that they found it.
“I had a double mastectomy, which was totally my choice. I knew how I was and I needed to take myself down to the lowest percentage of having it return. I’m not a worry wart, but in this situation, I just knew I’d worry, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
When she ponders what may have contributed to her breast cancer, Bren feels strongly that it has something to do with hormone replacement therapy (HRT). ”I trusted my doctor, so I never really questioned whether or not taking hormones was safe for me. I was on birth control pills a long, long time ago, but didn’t stay on them very long because of migraines. When it came to HRT, I did exactly what they advised and stopped taking it after five years. Within a year I was diagnosed. There are several women in my group who also took HRT and we all believe that’s what did it.”
Bren continues, “I’ve always been a real positive person all of my life. I would rather smile and have a positive attitude. Of course I felt sad with cancer, and I had my moment where I fell to the floor and cried a little bit right then, but I thought, ‘This is a new journey and I’m going to make the best of it.’ I tried not to concentrate on it being a tragedy. I decided I was going to try to be an example for other people. And believe me; I fully appreciate just how lucky I am!
“I was diagnosed with Stage I cancer and was HER2 positive, so I was put on Herceptin. I met a woman who was diagnosed in 2004 and was also HER2 positive, but Herceptin wasn’t available for her back then. I met her while she was receiving treatment, and when I saw her sitting there she was so frail. The cancer had spread to her liver and her brain. I realized that could very well have been me. This insight has also made me feel just how important it is to pay it forward.”
And pay it forward she did (and does)! One of her original endeavors was Bling for Breast Cancer, where she would take costume jewelry and make memory mirrors using bits and pieces from the jewelry. After trying to find a support group that didn’t leave her feeling depressed, she decided to start the Pink Posse Philes, saying, “In our group we celebrate life each month. We enjoy being together and we raise money so we can all feel like we are paying it forward.” As a testament to their success, the group has had such a positive impact that breast cancer survivors in the Tucson, AZ area are starting their own chapter.
“Breast cancer has actually allowed me to reinvent myself,” says Miller. “I think that’s one of the good things that came from the experience. When I look back I realize just how much I’ve changed since we moved here. I got cancer, I was bald, and I’d gained 20 pounds. Then one day I looked in the mirror and said ‘Who are you?’ I decided I was no longer Brenda (yes, that had been my name up until that moment). I became Bren (although my husband Greg likes to tease me and just call me Da!) Breast cancer is now my life. I still teach piano and guitar, but I’m known locally as the face of breast cancer. I love the fact that I’ve helped to start a community organization so all of the money we raise stays right here. I know the large organizations do a lot of good, but I felt it was important to serve the women right here where I live.
Having just lost a beloved member of their group, the women of Pink Posse Philes have decided that in 2014 they are going to concentrate on getting to know each other better. As a first step, they plan to have a slumber party in January where they will write their own obituaries, and as the ever positive Bren puts it, “We figure, who could do it better?”