After 16 years’ dedicated service, she was about to be sworn in as the borough’s Deputy Mayor. The natural course of events would mean she became Wigan’s first citizen a year later.
The woman with a self-proclaimed passion for community spirit was about to realise the dream of serving the community of the entire borough.
But the celebrations were about to be cut short because days after the civic ceremony the mother and grandmother of four was given some life-changing news.
Nagging pains had prompted Cllr Birch to seek medical advice, the result of which confirmed her worst fear – cancer.
It was breast cancer and secondary tumours that required immediate and intense treatment with no guarantee of success.
“It was a shock at first,” admitted Cllr Birch. “It’s not something you can ever expect but I was told that it was treatable so I was determined to fight it.”
The tragic irony for Cllr Birch was that she had already cared for two people extremely close to her as they lived with and finally to succumbed to the terrible illness.
“I had seen what this illness could do and had already lived with the consequences,” she said. “But I refused to give in to it. I had to hold on to the hope that I could beat it.”
And so began a year-long course of treatment, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy – which Cllr Birch admits she found ‘difficult’ at times.
“I had been given a chance, so I wasn't going to give in to personal discomfort,” she said.
“The care I was given by the doctors and nurses was fantastic, I couldn't have asked for more. They spurred me on every step of the way.”
One year on and just weeks before Cllr Birch took the Mayor's Chain of Office at a special ceremony, she got the news she was hoping for as she was given the all-clear.
“It really has given me a new lease of life,” she said. “I really feel that there's no stopping me now.”
The hard-working councillor has vowed to go on serving the people of her ward and the borough for as long as she can and she also looking forward to her mayoral year with fresh hope.
Each year the incoming Mayor chooses who they will support and raise money for during their term. Cllr Birch has nominated two causes. She will be working with the Multiple Sclerosis Society. “Two close family members have it,” she said. “And it’s important that everyone understands it doesn’t just affect older people.”
Cllr Birch’s second cause is even closer to home: “It’s the local branch of Marie Curie Cancer Care, so I can help people in our borough who are living with cancer. From expert advice and support to a bit of care and just a listening ear, the service provided by Marie Curie is very special. Both my causes are ones I am proud to support and I know the people of Wigan Borough will be right behind me.”
To find out how you can support Cllr Birch's charity appeal, visit Wigan Council's website Wigan Council - Mayoralty. You can also email the Mayor's secretary here or call: 01942 404149.