Just look at this woman! As a photographer, when someone pulls an outfit like this out of the wardrobe, you just know you're in for a good session. Oh, and she makes her own clothes too!
I first came across Liz O'Riordan when my friend, a breast cancer thriver, told me how much Liz's instagram feed had helped her through her diagnosis and treatment. When I started reading more about Liz, I realised that she represents everything this project all about. Women over 40 absolutely smashing it no matter what.
Liz was a breast cancer surgeon who, in 2015, was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. Gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed as well as a mastectomy and implant reconstruction. The treatment plunged her into an instant menopause. For the next 3 years, whilst still working as a breast cancer surgeon, Liz threw herself into exercise and even did a small triathlon half way through chemo!
During this time she did a Tedx talk about what it's like being on the other side of the operating table and has since then has dedicated her life to improving the quality of cancer care.
In 2018 her cancer came back forcing her to leave the job that she loved. But this hasn't stopped her banging the drum for better cancer care, speaking openly and honestly about everything she's faced helping thousands of other women along the way. Her instagram feed is full of honest conversation and advice about breast cancer, the menopause and her struggles with depression.
She is an avid cyclist, has done a half ironman, fundraised for Breast Cancer Care and is an ambassador for Working with Cancer. Oh and she's just written a book which you can pre-order here. She's a machine and I'm over the moon that she agreed to be part of this project.
Thank you Liz.
You are an inspiration to so many women with your open and honest approach and I know your instagram feed helps so many others going through cancer treatment. But where do YOU get your strength from? Who or what helps you?
That’s a tough one! I have no idea where the inner strength has come from that has enabled me to cope with everything life has thrown at me. Looking back, I had no choice but to cope, but now, talking and writing about it – I can see that I’m a much stronger person than I ever was. I guess it all comes down to my desire to help people. I couldn’t do what I do without my husband behind me. He’s been with me every step of the way, and although we still drive each other mad at times, that love and support gives me the courage to do what I do.
Age is a privilege of course and this is never more true than to someone who has undergone cancer treatment, but have you ever had any anxiety over the ageing process and pressure to look a certain way as a woman?
Definitely. I think it started back in school when I was one of the last in the class to develop breasts. That fear of being left behind and looking different from your peers was awful. I spent most of my twenties with my head in a glossy magazine, beating myself up because I didn’t look like the models on the page – forgetting that I was working 100 hour weeks training to be a surgeon. After finishing treatment for breast cancer I had to reinvent myself in my 40s. My long hair was now a grey frizzy crop, I had a hard implant for a breast, my eyebrows had forgotten where they were meant to grow and I had no idea what to wear without looking like my niece or my mum. I also had to find a new colour palette as the grey hair changed my complexion and all my dark red lipsticks looked awful. Now I think that style is something that grows on you. I buy (and make) what I want and ignore what the latest fashion trends are.
We often get asked through our podcast about menopausal treatment for women who have had breast cancer. Can you give any advice on what has worked for you?
The menopause is worse after cancer treatment as it’s instant, and often many years before the natural time. I woke up thinking I’d wet myself when in fact it was a night sweat. His and Hers duvets are essential, especially in the summer, so I can throw the covers off without freezing my husband. Preservative free lubricants like Yes and Sutil are a must, along with vaginal oestrogen – which does not increase the risk of recurrence. I use an antidepressant called Citalopram which works to reduce hot flushes. And the basics – exercise and getting a good night’s sleep.
If you could go back and give your teenage self some advice, what would you say?
I don’t think I would listen to anything I’d have to say – but it would be this – You are stronger than you know. Keep believing in your dreams.
Your diagnosis took you in a totally unexpected direction, forcing you to change your life and career. What advice would you give to other women who are suddenly faced with life changing situations outside of their control?
Give yourself time for the reality to sink in, and grieve for what you have lost.
Be practical – write down all your responsibilities - financial, family etc. That helped me to see how much money I needed to earn when deciding what to do next. Try not to make any rash decisions in the impulse of the moment. I have a notebook I write all my thoughts and ideas down in so I can come back to them later when I’m feeling more rational.
It may feel like the end of the world, but it’s not. I read a great book that said – think of any stressful situation as a plot twist in the story of your life. No-one knows what the ending is yet. It’s up to you.
So many women seem to dread turning 40, dread the menopause and dread looking old (thanks to a lifetime of being told we need to look and act a certain way). What are your thoughts on that?
Turning forty was mentally hard – especially as my brother sent me a card congratulating me for being halfway to eighty… But I actually had a great year. I was the fittest I’d ever been after cycling up the Stelvio in Italy. I’d worked out what my work uniform was (maxi dresses and heels), I had a few very close friends and thought I was finally ready to be an adult.
And then I got cancer and my life was thrown upside down. Now I find it hard to believe I’m nearly fifty. What does fifty look like in the mirror anyway? It’s so refreshing to see social media filling up with photos and articles of stylish, older women who are having fun with how they look and enjoying getting older (dis)gracefully. And now I’m grateful for every year that I have.
Final words of advice?
Wear the shoes. Wear the jewellery. Don’t save your clothes for special occasions. Make every day special.
Thank you Liz!
I think it's fair to say that our hormones have affected us all at some time in our lives be it puberty, PMT, pregnancy or the menopause. If that's you then check out my podcast, Dear Hormones, hopefully it'll make you smile. You can listen to it here.