Celebrity Health - Michaela Strachan

A photo of Michaela Strachan

"My journey back to good health"

Michaela Strachan talks to Liz Parry about how she is overcoming her breast cancer diagnosis and looking ahead to the future

TV presenter Michaela Strachan has had a tough year. In February 2014, shortly after competing in the gruelling diving show Splash, the 48-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. She is now hoping to raise awareness of the importance of early mammograms through her role as an ambassador for the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Michaela lives in Cape Town with her partner Nick and their son Ollie, nine, as well as Nick’s children Jade, 26, and twins Tom, and Sam, 24.

Q: You’ve had quite a lot to cope with in recent months. How are you feeling at the moment?

Michaela: "It’s been a challenging year but I feel as though I’m through it now and I’m feeling really good. When I was first diagnosed it was such a huge shock but I decided to turn it into a positive thing. I had a meeting with Breakthrough Breast Cancer and we discussed the idea of me becoming an ambassador for them. What I’m hoping to do is to remind women and educate them about having mammograms regularly after the age of 50. If you can find the cancer early then your chances of survival are so much higher. It’s not been an easy year for me but I’ve dealt with it and I’m moving on."

Q: Has it changed your attitude to life in any way?

Michaela: "I think when you get a scare like that it inevitably changes your life and I think you try not to sweat the small stuff too much. It’s a wake-up call. Although having said that I’m not the sort of person who needs a wake-up call. I appreciate life fully and I’ve always been a very positive person. Nevertheless it reminds you what’s important in life. And it reminds you that you have to have a work/life balance and that friends and family are important. I’ve tried not to stress and to be a little bit more relaxed about things."

Q: Have you always tried to follow a healthy lifestyle?

Michaela: "Yes I have and that’s why I’m slightly cross that I got cancer! I’ve always tried to be healthy. I grow my own vegetables and I buy organic when I can. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 18 years old and I’ve always been fit. I don’t drink very much and I don’t smoke. In the last 10 years, since I had my son Ollie, I’ve thought a lot more about my health."

Q: Do you enjoy cooking healthy meals?

Michaela: "Yes. For example, last night we had a risotto with broad beans from the garden and tonight we’re having lentils with sweet potatoes. We grow masses of spinach in our garden so spinach and coconut soup is a regular meal for us. We occasionally have pasta and soya mince but not too often. I have a company who look after my garden while I’m away and they often plant things in the garden that I’ve never tried before, like kale. So that helps me to broaden my diet a bit. It’s a nice way of forcing yourself to go outside your cooking comfort zone."

Q: Do you take any vitamins or supplements?

Michaela: "I didn’t before the cancer but now I do. I take a green powder which is full of antioxidants and vitamins. I also take vitamin B and calcium. This is to counteract the negative effects of being on a drug called Tamoxifen which blocks the oestrogen in the breast cells. If you are oestrogen receptive positive for breast cancer then it’s the usual medication that they put you on. I prefer a natural approach to health but when it’s something as serious as cancer I think you have to consider the conventional route. I have a nine-year-old-son and I want to live. If that means taking a drug and having side effects then so be it."

Q: You regularly commute between Cape Town and London. How do you look after your health when you are constantly travelling?

Michaela: "I think because I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s now part of my normal life. I think when you do something that’s not part of your normal life then that becomes stressful. I’ve always travelled even before I moved to South Africa – it was a big part of my life when I was doing The Really Wild Show. For me, getting on a plane is just like getting on a bus. What is tough – and any travelling, working mother knows this – is the constant juggling you have to do."

Q: With your busy schedule do you find time to exercise regularly?

Michaela: "Yes. I tend to do quite a varied exercise regime which means that I’m not really very good at anything! But I’m generally quite fit. I did a yoga class this morning, and another day I might go for a run. I also have a private Pilates class and I do a dance class which I really enjoy. I’ve started walking with friends a lot too. It’s taken me a while to get back into the exercise because two lots of surgery does knock you back a bit."

Q: You appeared on the diving show Splash. Do you keep up the diving?

Michaela: "Two weeks after the show I was diagnosed with the cancer so I couldn’t. After a mastectomy you can’t lift your arms and you have to do a lot of physio to get the movement back. So, no, I’m not strong enough to do the diving again, which is a shame as I think I might have carried on with it."

Q: You’re obviously a very outdoorsy person. Have you always had an affinity with nature and wildlife?

Michaela: "Not really. My parents weren’t particularly outdoorsy people and my passion when I was young was dancing and performance. I’ve done quite a curved swing into wildlife and developing a love for it. I’ve always loved animals and always been very interested in conservation but dancing was always more my passion than being outdoors. Both my stepsons have become passionate about conservation and sustainability, yet they were never interested in those sorts of things when they were younger. I think it’s quite a good lesson for people that if you’re not passionate about something when you’re younger it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be passionate about it when you‘re older. Passions can change and I think it’s important for people to realise that."

Q: How do you feel about the future?

Michaela: "I’m feeling really positive about everything and I’m putting what’s happened behind me now. I think when you are faced with health problems it’s important to deal with them head on and understand that you can’t change the situation. You need to be practical and pragmatic but you also need to nurture yourself."

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