Sian Williams: We should all stop persecuting ourselves

Journalist and TV presenter Sian Williams battled breast cancer two years ago. The mother-of-four tells Gabrielle Fagan how the experience has changed her outlook on life and health

Sian Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer a week after her 50th birthday

ALTHOUGH Sian Williams acknowledges she's "living with uncertainty" since her battle with breast cancer two years ago, the experience has, she reveals, given her a new and more liberated perspective.

The former host of BBC Breakfast, a job she had for 11 years, was diagnosed a week after her 50th birthday in 2014 and underwent a double mastectomy.

"One of the brilliant doctors who treated me told me at the end of it all, 'You've got to live with uncertainty because there's no clear-cut path ahead,'" she explains. "But knowing that actually made it a lot easier, because after all, we're all living with uncertainty as no-one ever knows what's around the corner.

"That doctor also told me, 'You're lucky, you've got a full and healthy life. Just go out, enjoy it and live it.' In the early days, I did have anxious moments thinking, 'Maybe it's back', but then you just get on with things like work and the family and realise there's no point constantly worrying."

The 52-year-old mother-of-four, who has two adult sons from a previous marriage as well as a 10-year-old son, Seth, and seven-year-old daughter, Eve, with her TV producer husband Paul Woolwich, has previously revealed that her biggest fear following her diagnosis was not being able to see her youngest children grow up.

"Nowadays I just feel very blessed and so fortunate that my cancer was very treatable. I'm in robust good health and all my check-ups, which I will continue to have for years, have been clear," says Williams, a down-to-earth interviewee. She acknowledges that "it's taken work and been an effort", but she's now able to feel "very positive" about the future.

Health is currently a work focus too as she's been investigating the vast array of health products available on the high street with co-host Dr Ranj Singh on ITV series Save Money: Good Health.

"We spend so much money on over-the-counter remedies and supplements, because often we're looking for a quick health fix or may be reluctant to go to a doctor. It's about helping viewers decide if they're spending their money wisely and exploring any cheaper alternatives," says Williams, who was born in London to Welsh parents.

"My dad, John was one of the volunteers testing out products and that was great fun for both of us. I've always been a big vitamin taker, but my father had never taken a pill in his life before taking part in this, and is hugely cynical about supplements and remedies.

"It was interesting for me to test sleep aids whose use is increasing as more and more people struggle with sleep problems. I had years of getting up in the early hours for breakfast TV which can jar your body clock. Lately, I find I can get to sleep, but sometimes wake up in the early hours and find it hard to drift back off again. As well as sleeping pills, we looked at natural ways to see if they help, including drinking cherry juice."

Her personal health battle, which she kept secret until May last year, has made her re-focus her own approach to health and dieting.

"We should all stop persecuting ourselves about what we eat. 'Diet' is a word which reeks of a punishment regime where pleasure doesn't get a look in, and that can't be good for us," she declares. "I watched my mum on diets while I was growing up and although I'd sworn never to diet myself over the years, I started excluding quite a lot of food groups in the belief it would make me healthier. I've tried fasting, cutting out sugar, gluten, and paid attention to reports about wine or certain foods which have been said to raise our cancer risk. So I've been all about drinking green tea, eating salmon and running."

The presenter, who anchors 5 News on Channel Five and who lost her mother and her aunt to cancer, reflects: "It's ironic that my husband's never done any of that, and has been known to have things like a couple of doughnuts for breakfast, but I'm the one who got the cancer. Recently I've found out that it's a varied diet which keeps you healthy and if you cut out too many food groups, your gut simply doesn't like it.

"The gut's called the 'second brain' because it has such a direct influence on the way we feel and think and I'm researching foods which can give us a happy gut and healthy mind."

Nowadays she avoids imposing 'healthy' rules on herself and says: "I'm kinder to myself. I've had enough of the 'shoulds' and 'should nots' which used to define what I did. I've realised if you break the rules you've set yourself, the result is you feel you failed, and who needs that?"

The last few years have, she says, inevitably changed the way she looks at life. "You become very aware of how important the people you love are to you after [illness]... and how important it is to spend time with them," says Williams.

"I focus on looking after the family, having a happy home, and showing compassion to other people. It's about being more aware of when people need a bit more help and, hopefully, being the one who can offer it. My philosophy is: concentrate on the big stuff and let the small stuff go by the way."

:: Save Money: Good Health airs Tuesdays at 7.30pm on ITV

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