Sunday 21 January 2018

'I put on six stone from the time my husband was diagnosed': Irish couple on battling cancer and weight loss hand in hand

When her new husband Andrew got cancer, Amy O'Riordan found herself gaining weight through comfort-eating

Andrew and Amy O’Riordan live and work in Cork. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Andrew and Amy O’Riordan live and work in Cork. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Having recovered from cancer with the unwavering support and care of his lovely wife Amy, Andrew O'Riordan believes their experience has made them stronger. "In situations like ours, couples either crack or they drive on," he says. "It was a very difficult experience, but it has given us this amazing lease of life."

Andrew, 29, and Amy, 30, were married in July 2010, and a few months later, the Corkman developed a persistent cough and breathlessness, which was initially deemed a respiratory problem. He collapsed at home in October 2011 and was admitted to hospital in Cork, where tests revealed stage three, high-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that starts in cells that are part of the body's immune system.

The diagnosis came as a huge shock as Andrew was in his early 20s, doesn't drink or smoke and is always outdoors. It was also a dreadful shock to Amy, his parents, Billy and Mary, and three elder siblings.

After a tough treatment regimen that included chemotherapy and peg feeding, and a huge scare when he went into respiratory failure, Andrew began to recover.

Amy O'Riordan before and after her weight loss
Amy O'Riordan before and after her weight loss

"There were times when I thought he wasn't going to make it, but we have a strong Christian faith and that was what got us through it," says Amy. "We are also incredibly blessed with a great family on both sides."

Amy is from Dun Laoghaire and is the youngest of Brenda and Derek Leary's three daughters. While her parents have retired to Dundalk, they moved to Cork for a month to support the young couple. "It was scary when Andrew came home from hospital as he had all of these tubes in him," says Amy. "I had to feed him and learn how to look after him."

Six months after he finished chemotherapy, Andrew was well enough to do an adventure rally, which included running, kayaking and cycling. He recently received his five-year all-clear declaration and feels on top of the world. Meanwhile, while Amy was his carer, she was eating erratically and put on a huge amount of weight. "I put on about six-and-a-half stone from the time Andrew started to get sick, and ended up at 19 stone," she says. "I never wanted to leave his side and was just grabbing things on the go and comfort-eating."

It came to a head for Amy when she and Andrew walked to a waterfall and she couldn't keep up with him. "My knees were going and I couldn't catch my breath, and I wanted to be able to keep up with Andrew and enjoy how precious life was, instead of struggling behind him."

Amy decided to try the Weight Watchers At Home programme and lost 26lbs in six months. Then she joined a class under leader Susan Cox and her weight loss increased to seven stone, three pounds. "It was a challenge but very rewarding," she says. "Andrew wanted to climb Carrauntoohil, which I would never have been able to do previously, so it was a huge accomplishment to climb it together two years ago."

Amy found the Weight Watchers experience so helpful, she decided to train to become a leader. She runs classes in Bandon, Mahon Point and Carrigaline (see facebook.com/growingintherightdirection). She won the organisation's Newcomer of The Year award last year. "I have been down that road myself, so I empathise with every member who comes in the door," she says.

Amy and Andrew climb Carrauntoohil
Amy and Andrew climb Carrauntoohil

Amy and Andrew met in 2004 when she was volunteering as a youth leader in a church in Cabinteely, and became friends with another volunteer - Andrew's sister Linda. They were just friends initially as Amy was in another relationship, but embarked on a relationship when she was single in 2006. "Andrew was a gentleman, and he was gorgeous and very funny," she says. "He made me feel like the most important person in the world."

Andrew thought Amy was very attractive and was drawn to her eyes, and he loved how caring she was. They were 19 and 18 at the time, and Amy was Andrew's first girlfriend. "We were both brought up in Christian homes, and Andrew didn't want to go out with anybody unless he was really serious about them," Amy explains. "It meant a lot for him to take that step with me. We were travelling up and down between Cork and Dublin for about three years. I was studying furniture design at DIT and then worked in an interior design shop, but then I moved to Cork to do a HDip to become a secondary school art teacher."

At the time, Andrew was working as an electrician with his dad's company. He and Amy renovated an old house and moved in after they married. He has now established a very successful boat tour company Ocean Escapes (oceanescapes.ie), which brings visitors along Cork's dramatic coastline, taking in views of Fort Camden, Spike Island and Cobh, outlining the Titanic connection, and showing the incredible wildlife.

Amy and Andrew say they treasure their time together. "We were strong when we got together in the beginning, but now we're as thick as thieves," says Amy. "Andrew is my best friend and has been a massive support to me. We are so looking forward to our future together."

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