March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. According to The Eve Appeal, in the UK over 7,300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. It’s the sixth most common cancer among women after breast cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer, womb cancer and melanoma skin cancer. Symptoms of ovarian cancer can be difficult to spot as they can be similar to those of other conditions. Early symptoms to look out for, such as persistent bloating, pain in the pelvis and lower stomach, and difficulty eating.
We recently met with Elizabeth Rees who launched her own small business, Eliza Eliza with a purpose – to spread greater awareness of gynaecological and breast cancer. Elizabeth creates sustainable, organic cotton “bags of meaning” to empower women to get talking about their health issues and understand the symptoms that could end up saving lives.
To begin, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi, I’m Elizabeth, mum of three boys; before having children I worked as a secondary school geography teacher. I live in a village on the outskirts of Cardiff. I love to listen to podcasts that introduce me to something new or spark inspiration in me; current favourites are ‘Conversations of Inspirations’, ‘Wardrobe Crisis’ and ‘You, Me and the Big C’. My favourite place is by the seaside – nothing better than breathing in fresh sea water air to clear the cobwebs!
When did you launch Eliza Eliza and what spurred you to do it?
I was on maternity with my first son and set up a business making and selling cushions on Etsy and social media. This gave me some experience and understanding of the possibilities an online business can offer. But cushions didn’t really excite me… Bags, however… I love my bags. Ever since I was a little girl I have carried a bag with all my essentials in. I wanted to create a bag or purse that I could use to organise my larger bags, and as I had just become a mum I started with the idea of a changing pouch. But also wanted it to look good enough as a clutch bag going out with my friends, to the pub or date night.
How did the charity partnerships come about and how did you choose who to partner with?
My first partnership was with Unseen, a charity which supports victims of modern slavery in the UK. Slavery is a much bigger problem in the UK than many people realise and my Freedom Collection aims to highlight the issue and encourage people to be visual of potential victims in their communities.
The Eve Appeal partnership occurred after I’d heard Karen Hobbs’ interview with Cherry Healey on her podcast Letters to my Fanny. (I told you I loved a podcast). Karen was diagnosed with cervical cancer at just 24. For the first time, I really thought about how naive I had been, I didn’t go for my first cervical screening (smear) test until I was 29, after I’d had my first baby. It was a mixture of lack of education as to what cervical screening was and some embarrassment. Seems so silly to think that now. I know now that by having one it can literally save your life… and the nurses have seen it all!
What’s the meaning behind your V Collection?
My V Collection bags and eye masks aim to act as an ice breaker and start conversations about gynaecological health. This includes awareness of the five gynae cancers: ovarian, cervical, womb, vulval and vaginal. By the fabric becoming an everyday visual and therefore becoming a conversational “norm” I want them to inadvertently encourage women to attend their smear tests. To understand what is normal for their bodies and if there are any changes, they are not embarrassed or afraid to go to their GP relating to their gynae health.
There is a misconception that ovarian cancer can be picked up in a smear test, unfortunately, it cannot which is why it is even more important to be aware of the above symptoms and contact your GP if you have any concerns.
Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer among women in the UK and every year 7,300 women are diagnosed with it. This month is all about raising awareness of this cancer, in particular, the key symptoms which are:
• Increased abdominal size and persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
• Persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
• Unexplained bowel habits
• Difficulty eating and feeling full quickly, or feeling nauseous
See The Eve Appeal website for more details.
What else do you think we can do to help raise awareness of women’s cancers and encourage each other to attend regular tests?
Don’t be afraid to bring up the conversation of gynaecological health and cancer with friends and family. Or even work colleagues. Even strangers. The more we talk about it, the more normal it becomes. You never know when that throwaway comment or a short conversation with another could be the nudge someone needs to get checked.
Huge thanks to the wonderful Elizabeth for chatting with us about her business with meaning. You can support some really important causes by buying some really beautiful products over on the Eliza Eliza website now.