Meet Liz O’ Riordan. Athlete, consultant surgeon, author, influencer and public speaker with a mind full of inspiring insight. Training as a breast surgeon through the 90’s, Liz didn’t let herself become discouraged by the rampant gender discrimination and sexual harassment directed at female surgeons through that time. She progressed to a senior role providing treatment and counsel to thousands of women, as they were thrown into some of the most challenging and unexpected times of their life, following diagnosis.
Shockingly, after treating so many with breast cancer, Liz was diagnosed with the disease herself at the age of 40. She was swept into the primary care system she’d worked within to experience it from an alien perspective. Treatment was invasive, with operations and chemotherapy that floored her, even as a young, super fit woman; leaving her questioning the far-reaching impact of treatment on older, less able people. Then, just over a year ago, the cancer re-occurred in the form of a rare local tumour, which fewer than 5% of people develop, and Liz had to withstand the process for a second time. Her experiences have permanently changed her understanding of cancer and its impact in the most personal way possible, giving her a unique understanding of the disease from an intellectual, physical and emotional standpoint.
Liz is moving forward with her life, freshly retired from her surgery career and immersed in public speaking (her TEDx is a brilliant watch), writing a second book and advocating for the huge role exercise can play in cancer recovery. Watch this space as she is in the midst of founding Cancer Fit with triathlete Lucy Gossage – who also works in the cancer field.
But it's not a simple or easy path post-cancer.
Liz spoke articulately about the layers of her cancer story – from struggling to feel feminine after elements of femininity as we know it were taken one by one, to the politics of cancer, complimentary therapies and the inequalities of research funding. We talked about a lot!
What going into a career in surgery was like for women in the 90s
How Liz has adjusted life goals throughout her life and softened her aims for perfection across many areas of her life
How invasive treatment and body changes, from mastectomy to losing hair, hormones and libido, can force an evaluation of how we define femininity
The process of adapting to a changed body, and reconstructed breasts that no longer feel like breasts
The extent of the impact of menopause on women
The blessings and curses of a professional expertise in breast cancer as a breast cancer patient
Living with the trauma and collateral damage of chemotherapy
Moving forward for a second time after cancer returns, despite the assault of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormonal manipulation, and what helped Liz come to terms with it
The politics of cancer research and funding and the red tape often preventing people from receiving optimum treatment and support
The role sport and exercise can play in both mental and physical health and wellbeing when people are undergoing cancer treatment
Thank you so much to Liz for making time to speak to me – she’s a busy woman in much demand. Be sure to check her book out and share with anyone you know who has a relationship with breast cancer, it’s a wealth of knowledge and advice.