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Julia, 52, is in a reflective mood just over a year since her breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy. In that time the TV presenter has completely overhauled her life, focusing on her health and re-evaluating her attitude to work.
Next Sunday she will be celebrating at her London home with her partner Gerard Cunningham, a property developer, and their son Zephyr, 11, twin girls Zena and Xanthe, seven, plus Julia’s parents Michael and Chrissi.
“We thought a family Christmas at home would be the best thing we could do – and also the most nourishing,” says Julia.
“My parents are in their 80s and the children are still excited about Christmas, by Santa coming down the chimney, the Elf on the Shelf. It’s really special to revel in their magic.”
The former Countryfile presenter wants to enjoy the festive break before embarking on more health checks.
“I’m going to hold off until after Christmas before I get my re-check done, because I just want to have a nice Christmas. I’ve had blood tests midway through and everything was looking good.
“I’m just over a year past my diagnosis and mastectomy. It’s not over. It’s something that I have to deal with on a daily basis.
“But I’m feeling good. I’ve completely changed my life from a health perspective.
“I’m undergoing all sorts of genetic tests as well. I did something called the SNP (pronounced Snip) test, which can give you a fairly accurate reading of your chance of recurrence.
“It indicated I have a slightly higher chance of recurrence than the average woman. It’s not huge, but it’s significant enough to make what I regard as important lifestyle changes. I’m off the booze. I did drink on my birthday in July but other than that, I haven’t.
“I’m very aware of the messaging around breast cancer and alcohol and the statistics for me are that if I have more than four units a week, my risk of recurrence goes up by 28 percent.
“I’ll have a Champagne toast at Christmas, but I’m not sure if I’m going to make that a full glass.”
Julia was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2021 and a month later had a mastectomy of her left breast and reconstruction.
During her diagnosis and recovery she kept her children infor-med and continues to be open with them – even with difficult questions: “They knew very much what I was going through.
“The other day one of my little girls saw me with my mountain of books, some about cancer, and asked, ‘What happens when cancer comes back, Mummy?’
“I was a bit stumped for a few moments because obviously it’s not great. I just had to say, ‘Well you have to deal with it if it comes back, sweetheart, and it depends on individuals. But it’s generally not very good news if it comes back’. She said, ‘Does that mean that you die?’ I said, ‘Not always, but yes, some of the time that’s what it can mean’.
“These are tricky subjects you have to navigate. They know that health is very much on my agenda. I’m trying to instil in them that these are important life lessons.
“If they just think about what they’re eating, what they’re doing from a health perspective, I’m doing the right job as a parent.”
Julia has also cut out sugar and milk chocolate from her diet. “I definitely was eating too much sugar. I’m now a dark chocolate lover. That’s my treat. I’ve changed my taste buds.
“I start my day with a savoury breakfast. I have vegetables drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. That really sets you up for the day.
“I’m into a whole host of fibres and nuts, chia seeds, blackberries, blueberries too.”
She said a lot of people were taken aback after her diagnosis as she seemed the poster girl for health from her programmes like Britain’s Best Walks and The Greek Islands.
She said: “I think it’s important to highlight that cancer can strike anybody. In retrospect I haven’t been that healthy, I haven’t taken my sleep seriously. I’ve always labelled myself as a night owl.
“I was working in a very haphazard way that was detrimental to my stress levels. It’s important to sleep well, do breath work and meditate. I hadn’t given enough importance to those things. It’s been revelatory to me.”
Earlier this year she filmed her moving ITV documentary Breast Cancer And Me, which she said helped her process what she was going through as well as helping others.
She reveals that after it was aired, Breast Cancer Now saw a 78 percent increase in visitors to its website and over a quarter more to its helpline.
“I continue to get letters, emails and messages from people every day, a lot of them saying, ‘Thank you – because of you I went for a mammogram or I went to get my lump tested’.”
Julia says the documentary showed a different side to her.
“It allowed me to explore the more vulnerable side of myself.
“Life is peppered with bad things and you have to be resilient and learn how to cope.
“But I think it’s also important to express emotions of sadness.
“In the early days I went to see a counsellor and I was very teary for many of those sessions. That was very unlike me, sometimes I just sat down and started crying.
“And I can still have a cry. It’s not a self-pitying cry, it’s just to let that emotion out.”
One of the other big changes in her life has been her attitude to work. “I made a new rule for myself after I was diagnosed that for everything I work on, there has to be an element of joy and it really has to ring true with me.
“I can’t tell you the number of opportunities that have come my way, and I’ve said, sorry I don’t believe in that. That’s not me.”
She is passionate about the environment and sustainability, which is why she is supporting the Smart Energy GB campaign for more awareness about renewable energy: “I’m a bit of an eco geek because I care passionately about the natural world.
“I’ve always had a healthy interest in not just what we are doing to our planet, but what we can do to save it.
“In 1991 renewables accounted for just two percent of our electricity and now we are up to 26 percent. That’s what we want to see more. We can become less and less reliant on fossil fuels and gas that we are importing from other countries.”
She was able to flex her environmental muscles this month when she stepped in to present for Helen Skelton on Channel 5’s Live: Winter On The Farm, while Helen was busy rehearsing for Strictly.
And Julia is hugely proud of her fellow Countryfile colleague.
“I’ve been talking to Helen regularly and to get to the final is phenomenal. She deserves it.”
As for next year, Julia is already working on a book and TV series.
“My new book is Walk Yourself Happy. It’s about the goodness of nature, the great outdoors, an overall look at health with walking as the central pillar.
“And I will also be filming a series in Ireland, which I feel an emotional connection with as I was born there and I’ve ended up with an Irishman!
“My ambition for next year is to continue to raise awareness about breast cancer but also about our general health and the things we can do to optimise it.”
“Smart Energy GB conducted research which revealed Britons believe just 38 percent of our electricity is produced in the UK, compared to the true figure of 93 percent. Alongside this, SEGB collaborated with Julia Bradbury to highlight the efforts which Britain’s energy heroes are making to generate their own electricity.
- For more information, visit smartenergygb.org
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