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'It was so scary when I got cancer as I had a young son'

By Helen Carson

Christine Hamill: The 53-year-old teacher and author lives in Belfast with her son, Callan (18).

Do you take regular exercise - and if so what?

Walking twice a week is my only form of exercise now. I go out walking with a group of friends and living near both Lady Dixon Park and the Mary Peters Track means there are lots of nice places to go. I used to swim but my knee is prone to dislocating so it's not a good idea.

What's been the worst illness you have had?

Having breast cancer. I was diagnosed in September 2008 after I found a lump - I knew straight away it was cancer. There was another lump in my armpit. I've had a mastectomy and lymph nodes removed as well as hormonal therapy. It was very difficult at the time as my son was just 10 - it's scary being a single parent. I thought to myself 'what happens now'? I didn't know anyone who had survived cancer. Now you hear more about survival which is a good thing.

How healthy is your diet?

Pretty healthy as I cook all my meals from scratch and enjoy fruit and vegetables, and I'm not a great meat eater. I remember thinking to myself when I had cancer - was it something I had done to myself as I don't eat crisps or take fizzy drinks. I was quite cross as I thought the cancer was a result of something environmental.

Any bad habits?

Probably drinking too much tea and I have a sweet tooth. I love bars of chocolate or Milk Tray.

Do you drink and/or smoke - and if so how much?

I love red wine and Prosecco but don't drink very much anymore - I just cannot do it. I gave up smoking in 1994 when it was becoming anti-social and it was the best thing I've ever done. I would have smoked up to 20 cigarettes a day.

Do you take any health supplements?

My diet is healthy so I don't think I need to supplement it with vitamins although I do take Echinacea to ward off sinus infections which I get every winter. Because I was on so many meds when I had cancer now I don't like taking tablets. Also so many supplements are contraindicated with Tamoxifen which I took when I had breast cancer.

How do you take time out?

Walking and reading Scandi noir novels or anything by writer David Sedaris as he is absolutely hilarious - he really makes me laugh. I also love watching comedies like Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory on TV with Callan. Another hobby of mine is singing with the Crescent Arts Centre choir which is liberating, relaxing and exhilarating.

How well do you sleep?

Not well, I'm a bit of an insomniac. If anything worries me then I wake up. I've done everything that is supposed to be conducive to a good night's sleep - I don't have a TV in my room, have blackout blinds and turn my phone off. While I get over to sleep easily I always wake up and I'm not good when sleep deprived.

Do you worry about getting old?

I don't like the look of getting older and the sore bones. I have a painful knee now and suffered sciatica for the first time recently. But it's not all bad when you're older as you know more and I wouldn't want to be 18 again. It's great to watch your children growing up too and getting on with their lives. You have to embrace growing older as the alternative is worse.

What is your go-to product/habit that keeps you feeling healthy?

When I feel under the weather I will make a list of everything that is good in my life, then I don't feel so bad. I keep a notebook for that purpose.

  • Christine Hamill wrote Be is for Breast Cancer, £12, and The Best Medicine, £6.99, both available from Amazon

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