Holiday seafood and homemade treacle bread hit the button for Heather Monteverde

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Heather Monteverde, head of services for Macmillan Cancer Support in Northern Ireland and recently named one of the 70 most influential nurses in the history of the NHS

Heather Monteverde, Head of Services for Macmillan Cancer Support in Northern Ireland and recently named one of the 70 most 'influential' nurses in the history of the NHS
Gail Bell

1 Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

On a work day, I get up at around 7am. I'm wakened up by an alarm clock that my mother bought me when I started nursing, way back in October 1981. I'm usually awake before my alarm goes off and I'll go down to the kitchen and put the kettle on, have a coffee and then I'll take a shower. I eat breakfast by myself and listen to the radio to catch up on the news.

2 What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? I am a creature of habit and, in the winter, I'll have toasted wheaten bread and a banana and fresh berries and Greek yoghurt in summer.

Lunch? Home-made vegetable soup or salad.

Evening meal? Quite often, I'll make casseroles, but if I need something last minute, I'll have fresh pasta with sauce. I'll sometimes make my own sauce, otherwise I'll buy from the supermarket and add in some vegetables.

3 Is nutrition important to you?

Nutrition is important to me and we all have to take responsibility for what we eat. I am mindful to have five portions of fruit and vegetables each day and I try to limit the amount of bread I consume.

4 Best meal ever?

I honestly can't pick just one meal, but I feel like my most favourite dining experiences have been with the people you're with and not necessarily the food. When I'm on holiday, I enjoy seafood, so I might go for a dish with langoustines, mussels or prawns. One of my fondest memories is of my mum baking home-made treacle bread and wheaten on the griddle at home.

5 Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Crisps, hummus and cheese.

6 Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

I've never been on a diet, but if I was going on holiday, I would be a bit more mindful as to what I was eating before my departure.

7 Do you take health supplements?

I take multivitamins daily and in the winter I take a vitamin D supplement.

8 How do you relax?

I find it very difficult to relax, but I enjoy cooking, reading and a brisk walk by myself to clear my head. I'm also part of a choir called Ballygowan Community Voices which I find an excellent way to round off the week.

9 Teetotal or tipple?

Tipple. I enjoy a glass of wine from time to time with my evening meal. My favourites would be a New Zealand or Chilean white or a Malbec red.

10 Stairs or lift?

Depends on how many... The Macmillan head office in London is on the 13th floor, for example, so for that occasion I do take the lift.

11 Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I try to fit a walk in every day – a half-hour brisk walk every evening with a longer walk at the weekends.

12 Best tip for everyday fitness?

Keep active and keep moving. If you work at a desk every day, you should try and get up and about and stretch your legs every hour.

13 On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be? I would say I'm a six but I'm aiming higher...

14 Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I have always been fairly cynical about alternative therapy but when I was pregnant with Katie (who is now 21), I was admitted to hospital with hyperemesis gravidarum which is severe nausea and vomiting. One of the midwives in the Jubilee Maternity Ward in Belfast suggested acupuncture and it was the first thing that helped me. I also think that there is something extremely beneficial about mindfulness and relaxation and it's something that I'd like to explore further.

15 Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

I enjoyed sport at school and was part of the hockey team.

16 Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

No, I've always been blessed with very good health and I've only ever had minor ailments.

17 Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

There is something about getting out into the fresh air and moving. Throughout my career as a cancer nurse over the last 30 years, there has been a radical change in the importance of exercise, especially for people with a cancer diagnosis. It used to be that people were told ‘rest is best', but we now know that physical activity is safe during and after most types of cancer treatment and that it can help reduce the side effects as well as the risk of cancer spreading or returning.

18 Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life? The person who has inspired me most has been my mother who died a few months ago. She was a nurse, a farmer's wife and raised six children. She had time for everybody and lived by the golden rule, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'.

19 What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I am not a good sleeper and I've tried everything over the years. I stay off all electronic devices an hour before bed and have switched to decaf coffee but, unfortunately, it's had little impact. On a work night I try to aim to be in bed between 10.30 and 11pm.

20 Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

I do have a healthy attitude towards my own mortality. As a nurse, I've had the privilege of caring for people with serious illnesses and at the end of their lives. In Northern Ireland, I feel like it's something that we don't talk about and is taboo, but it is something that will come to all of us. I have a strong Christian faith and I think that helps in that there is still a life to come.

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