Aqua aerial artist reveals how she was able to return to her circus act after breast cancer


A woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer after being dismissed by doctors in numerous appointments is now inspiring other survivors with her return to the circus.

Laura Miller, 42, from Bognor Regis, explained that she began treatment for stage three invasive breast cancer after discovering a lump in her breast, while putting on a costume for her circus act at a show in Puerto Rico in 2012.

The aqua aerial artist said medics initially tried to reassure her that the lump wasn’t serious because she was in her early 30s at the time, however a referral for a biopsy revealed the devastating disease.

She had to go through three surgeries, six months of chemo, three weeks of radiotherapy and a year of targeted Herceptin treatment, followed by two reconstructive surgeries.

Treatment took two years and she had to give up performing and move back in with her parents, but to keep herself motivated she envisioned holding on to her aerial ring, and after two years she is finally back performing with the circus.  

Laura describes her act as ‘Aquatic Aerial Ring’, which involves combining the elements of air, water and fire. She beings the performance in the air and then plunges into a tank of water before spinning back up into the air repeatedly.

The act ends with Laura jumping into the water for a final time, as it is set on fire.   

Laura Miller, 42, (pictured) from Bognor Regis, has returned to job as an aqua aerial artist following treatment for stage three invasive breast cancer

Laura Miller, 42, (pictured) from Bognor Regis, has returned to job as an aqua aerial artist following treatment for stage three invasive breast cancer

‘Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I was at the peak of my fitness and I had been in Germany and Spain touring. I was in Puerto Rico with aqua circus when I found a lump in my breast during a costume change,’ she told FEMAIL.

‘I just saw in the mirror a lump on my breast and thought “what’s that?”, but I ignored it for a couple of days.’

‘A couple of days later I saw it again and I thought I should get this checked out. The contract was only two months, so I waited until I came back to the UK.

‘I went to the doctors. I remember it very clearly, she checked it and said, “There is something there, but you’re so young it’s probably just hormonal”.’

Laura was referred to a breast cancer service where she was examined.  

‘Again, they said: “I don’t think it’s anything serious but we’ll do an ultrasound just to be on the safe side”,’ she recalled. ‘During the ultrasound, she said “I really don’t think there’s anything to worry about, but we’ll do another one in three months time”.

At her next check up three months later, Laura was again told it was nothing serious, but doctors decided to do a biopsy to put her mind at rest

Having previously been reassured in numerous appointments, she had booked a flight to Spain to see her partner Bruno Antares, 68, the next day.

She also chose not to tell her family members about the appointment, except her mother to avoid causing them any worry.

She said: ‘I went back for the results ten days later, absolutely thinking that it was fine and nothing was wrong with me.

‘But it was grade three invasive breast cancer. 

Laura (pictured during her act) said she was reassured at multiple doctor appointments that a lump in her breast was likely not serious, before being diagnosed with cancer

Laura (pictured during her act) said she was reassured at multiple doctor appointments that a lump in her breast was likely not serious, before being diagnosed with cancer

‘I had a flight to Spain booked for the day after my results because I had been so sure that everything was going to be fine. 

‘I was going to see my partner in Spain and we were going to carry on with our lives. It was a very, very big shock.

‘I hadn’t told my sisters or anybody because I didn’t want them to worry. Just my mum, she came with to the appointment and even then I said, “Wait outside, it’s fine”.

‘Then when they told me and I had to call her back in, it was just the most heartbreaking time for me.

‘To see her face. I think it’s worst for your loved ones than for yourself, to see them suffering. My partner flew back to England the next day.’

Laura said she’s ‘lucky’ to have a very close family and friends around her.

The aqua aerial artist had three operations to remove the cancer after being diagnosed. 

‘I then had six months of chemotherapy, three weeks of radiotherapy and a year of Herceptin treatment, which is targeted therapy for every three weeks,’ she explained. 

Laura who had treatments for two years, said getting her fitness back was a slow process with some days where she couldn't make it to the gym, but now she's back performing

Laura who had treatments for two years, said getting her fitness back was a slow process with some days where she couldn’t make it to the gym, but now she’s back performing 

‘I then had two reconstructions operations for my breasts, so it was about two years of treatments.’

Eight most common signs of breast cancer

• A change in size or shape

• A lump or area that feels thicker than the rest of the breast

• A change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like the skin of an orange)

• A redness or rash on the skin and/or around the nipple

• Your nipple has become pulled in or looks different, for example changed its position or shape

• Liquid that comes from the nipple without squeezing

• Pain in your breast or your armpit that’s there all or almost all of the time

• A swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone

Laura said that she initially expected to only have one year off work after hearing from her consultant about the treatment she would have go through. 

Despite dedicating her time to her recovery without the added pressure of any children or dependants, she revealed it was a slow process to get her fitness back. 

Laura said: ‘I would go to the gym maybe five days a week. I would drive there then do a little bit of stretching and maybe walk a mile on a machine.

‘I remember one day driving to the gym and walking up to the door but I just had to turn back around.

‘I just didn’t have the strength in me, but the next day I did. I think with treatment like this you have good and bad days.

‘When you have bad days, just listen to your body and take it easy.’

Laura who became a dancer at Butlins after completing her A-Levels, explained that she had always wanted a job in showbusiness.

She said it wasn’t until after her partner, a trapeze artist turned technical support, came to England to work at the resort as an aerial artist that she began to work towards her current profession as an aqua aerial artist.

Bruno, who was working alongside his brother and sister-in-law, trained Laura to take his pregnant sister-in-law’s place in their act. 

Laura (pictured) said being unable to work during treatment also took away her identity, because she suddenly found herself living with her parents, which makes her return to performing even more meaningful

Laura (pictured) said being unable to work during treatment also took away her identity, because she suddenly found herself living with her parents, which makes her return to performing even more meaningful 

Having fallen in love, she then traveled to France with him and continued perfecting her craft.

‘For me my whole life is in the circus doing my act and performing, it’s not just losing your job it was also losing my identity. We stopped travelling and I suddenly found myself living at home with my mum and dad,’ Laura said.

‘All I could envision was to get back, hold onto my aerial ring. I could see myself holding onto it in my mind and that was my motivation.

‘I wanted so badly to get back to my life. I was very determined and I still count my blessings everyday, some people after the operations I’ve had can’t even lift their arm shoulder high.’

Laura joined the Young Breast Cancer Network page on Facebook to connect with other women under age 45 who’ve been diagnosed with the disease.

She said: ‘Breast cancer is awful for anybody but for young women there’s extra challenges involved. For example fertility, after chemotherapy you might not be able to have children. 

‘Young Breast Cancer Network is a safe space to talk to each other about how you feel and everything. It was a friend of mine called Victoria Yates who actually set it up.

‘She came and saw me perform a couple of days ago, all these years later. Once I had gone through my treatment, it became nice to give back to the girls and give them hope now.

‘Inspiration, that it can get better.

‘In the beginning when I met Victoria, we had a Breast Cancer Network meet up where we all went for lunch and there was about 40 of us. 

Circus Extreme, which is the UK's largest circus is now touring the country until the end of October with its dare devil acts.

Circus Extreme, which is the UK’s largest circus is now touring the country until the end of October with its dare devil acts.

‘When I joined it was a couple of hundred members in the group, now I think there’s about 4,000. 

‘I’d go to a hospital appointment with my mum and people would assume I was there with her because breast cancer is still seen as an illness that can happen to older women and it does, but there is still unfortunately a lot of younger women who have it. 

‘A couple of years ago one of the girls on the Young Breast Cancer Network put a post up that she was in an amateur weightlifting competition after her diagnosis. 

‘I wrote ‘I’m really happy for you’ and she sent me a message saying; ‘thank you Laura, I’m so grateful to you because you inspired me so much.

‘When I was lying in bed having chemo, I would see your posts on Facebook about how you got back to performing again and it gave me such inspiration and hope for the future’.

‘I didn’t even know this girl and I thought it was really lovely. That’s what the Young Breast Cancer network is about, giving each other hope.’  

Just two years after she began working again, Laura was invited to participate in the 40th International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo.

She said it was a privilege as the performance is ‘like the Oscars of the circus world’. 

Laura, who is currently performing as part of Circus Extreme, explained that the circus is a nice crowd and there is never a dull moment working on the show.  

She said it’s difficult to describe the feeling that it gives and admitted she appreciates the audience reaction even more following the covid lockdowns.

She spent time training to become a yoga teacher during the challenging period.

Circus Extreme, which is the UK’s largest circus is now touring the country until the end of October with its dare devil acts.   

Laura said: ‘Just to see the joy on people’s faces and know that you’ve given them that little bit of magic is a lovely feeling. The circus gives you a chance to get away and forget about your problems.

‘Forget about anything happening in your life for a couple of hours, while you’re transported to another world. After everything I’ve been through, I appreciate everything so much more now and again after the past year to be here.

‘When I was working abroad it was hard not seeing my family as much, but they would come and visit. My mum and dad wouldn’t have seen some of the beautiful places in the world if they weren’t visiting me on my job.

‘My dad, he passed away last year, but he was so proud of my job. He could sit and watch show after show after show. My mum comes and sees me when she can.

‘I couldn’t go to my niece’s wedding because I was working in Germany, but there’s so many good positive things about the circus life that makes it worth it. 



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