My #10YearChallenge: 2009 – 2019

My #10YearChallenge: 2009 – 2019

This is me with my ex-husband Ian in December 2009, and me with Russ – my second husband – in December 2019:


It has been pointed out to me that my smile in the photo with Russ exudes happiness and positivity compared to the one with my ex-husband where I don’t look happy, and my smile looks forced in the photo and not real. And yet, I’ve been through SO much in the last ten years that I am amazed I am still standing, let alone smiling, looking happy and radiating positivity in the photo with Russ.

But you know what? Despite it all, despite EVERY single event that has happened to me, whether they were within my control or out of my control, I am happy today 😊 I am happy because I got through it all, I was resilient and I refused to give up. I am a fighter and I not only survived it all, but I thrived despite it all.

So exactly what has happened to me in the last ten years since the photo was taken of me with my ex-husband? As the line goes in my favourite film from 2019 “Rocketman”: “There are moments in a rock stars life that define who he is”. The same is true for me – there have been lots of moments in my life in the last ten years that have defined me and made me the person I am today.

Here is a list of those moments – the moments that define me and that made me who I am today:

✅I moved to a new house where I am now in 2009.

✅I lost my beloved dog Howie to old age in December 2009 when he was 14 and a half.

✅I founded and launched the Worcestershire Literary Festival in 2011 and came away from it in 2013 when I was pregnant with Frankie. Since then it has sadly become a shadow of what it was when I launched it – it has gone from having over 100 events over 10 days to having approx 7 events tiny events over 7 days.

✅My ex-husband left me 10 days before we were due to start ICSI treatment to have a baby together after I had suffered 6 early miscarriages on 25 February 2012.

✅My ex-husband and I got divorced the same year.

✅In an unexpected twist, I got together with Russ after knowing him since 2002 in April 2012. I first met him through my ex-husband as they used to work at the same company back then, and we got back in touch with each other on Facebook a month after Ian had left me.

✅Russ and I got married on 6 April 2013, it was one of the happiest days of my life.

✅I found out I was pregnant in May 2013. Despite having had 6 previous early miscarriages I made it to the 12 week scan and incredibly to my 5 month scan.

✅ During my 5 month scan I was told that my unborn baby had a severe cleft lip and palate, and would need lots of operations, care and treatment throughout his lifetime. I found out I was having a boy and we named him after my Dad – Francesco “Frankie” Enrico Ventura.

✅ A few weeks later I was told that not only did Frankie have a severe cleft lip and palate but he also had non-positional talipes, which meant it was very unlikely that he would not walk. I prepared for life as the Mum to a son who had significant disabilities and who would need 24-hour round the clock share. I shut down everything I was doing work wise to get ready for this.

✅I stopped feeling Frankie move on 27 November 2013 when I was 33 weeks pregnant with him. I was told the following words that would change my life forever: “I am so sorry, but there is no heartbeat.”

✅My much loved and much wanted son Francesco “Frankie” Enrico Ventura was born sleeping on 29 November 2013.

✅I had to walk out of the Worcestershire Royal Hospital without my son, and arrange his funeral which took place on 5 December 2013.

✅Tests on Frankie after he was born showed that he had an extremely rare chromosome abnormality – he had a duplication on his chromosome 15. I was told that not only did he have the physical disabilities of a severe cleft lip and palate and non-positional talipes, but he would have had severe learning difficulties, autism and it was very likely he would have been non-verbal. I got into the medical record books because of his rare chromosome 15 duplication – 1 in 300,000 babies have this – yet it had to be MY son.

✅Following Frankie’s birth, which was extremely traumatic as I was induced and left in agony for hours on end, not to mention traumatic as he wasn’t born alive, I was diagnosed with PTSD. To this day I still have flashbacks at random times to when he was born and the devastation I felt that he had been born sleeping.

✅After I lost Frankie, I went through many close family bereavements one after the other….my father in law Allan, cousin Brenda, cousin Tony, my beloved Aunty Maria, my Uncle Vincenzo, my Great Aunty Gert and Cousin Maxine. It seemed like just as I got over one funeral, I had to get ready to go to another one. It was relentless.

✅I had a further 4 early miscarriages on top of the 6 I had with my ex-husband and was diagnosed by Professor Jan Brosens and Professor Siobhan Quenby at the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital with a rare condition called hyperfertility, for which there is no treatment and it explained my previous early miscarriages. I was told that it was a “fluke” that Frankie had got past the 6 week mark at all due to my condition and thank GOD I didn’t have that ICSI treatment with my ex-husband and that he left me when he did, as due to that underlying condition it could have potentially been fatal for me.

✅After I was diagnosed with hyperfertility Russ and I decided that enough was enough with trying for a baby. I was 43, he was 46 and we felt that it would be unfair to have a baby at our time of life. I had to come to terms with the fact that I would never be a mother.

✅I witnessed the horror that is dementia before my beloved Aunty Marie passed away in November 2015 when she was diagnosed with it. Dementia is such a cruel illness, and it took me a long time to get over what I had seen and to come to terms with losing her, as she was such a big part of my life.

✅My beloved Dad got ill in October 2017 when he was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy out of the blue. Today myself, my Mum and my husband are still navigating through this as he has developed other health conditions including possible frontemporal dementia and motor neurone disease, for which we are waiting to hear from his neurologist about. This has brought me and my husband many significant struggles and challenges.

✅I lost my beloved German Shepherd dog Curley to old age in 2015 and rescued my German Shepherd/Husky cross dog Poppy 3 weeks later in July 2015. The reality though is that Poppy has rescued me. I don’t know what I would do without her, she is the best therapist and because of her I get up every morning even when I don’t feel like doing so to take her for her morning walk.

✅When I rescued Poppy, I decided to come out of corporate life and work remotely from home. This was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I can’t imagine going back to working full-time in an office now.

✅Russ and I have been tested to the absolute limits and how we have endured everything we have been through and are still together I do not know. There were times when I honestly didn’t think we would make it. But we are still together, and I honestly don’t know what I would do without him. He is a saint to put up with me, he is my rock and my anchor.

✅I’ve been bullied, hurt and cruelly betrayed by people who were masquerading as “friends” in my life. They are the WORST kind of people and they have been removed from my life never to return. Despite this I still have some great friends who deserve to be in my life, but as a result I do not trust easily today.

✅Despite all the above I chose to survive and thrive, and not be a victim.

✅I founded a charity called “Frankie’s Legacy” and raised much needed money for the bereavement suite at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital to benefit other couples who lose their babies to stillbirth.

✅I became an award winning writer and blogger and launched my blog “Cyber Geek Girl”.

✅In 2018 I was diagnosed by chance when I was asked to take part in a study as being #ActuallyAutistic, which explained A LOT about why I am the way I am.

✅I forged ahead with a career in cyber security following the time I spent at my ex-husbands company before we separated and divorced, and I founded the UK Cyber Security Association.

✅In addition to the UK Cyber Security Association I undertook content marketing and cyber security awareness consultancy work for various organisations, which I still love doing.

✅I attended many cyber security conferences and events as a keynote speaker and panellist.

✅I became an advocate, awareness raiser and campaigner for neurodiversity in cyber security, for women in cyber security and for the importance of cyber security for everyone and of staying safe online.

✅In 2019 I won four, yes four, industry awards for my work in cyber security and I was a finalist for many others.

✅I’ve been published in numerous cyber security trade publications and magazines.

✅I qualified as a Reiki healing practitioner in October 2019.

When I read all this back it feels so surreal, like it all happened to someone else and not to me. I am amazed I got through it all, but I did. The last ten years have been some of the toughest I have ever known with many challenges, twists and turns. But I have proved that I am strong, resilient, a fighter and a survivor. Not only have I survived it all, but I have thrived. And I will continue to thrive.

Advice to the me in the photo in December 2009…..

What would I tell the me back in 2009, the one stood next to my ex-husband? The one who had just started out in cyber security in my ex-husband’s company, who had not long moved to a new house and who was excited for what 2010 would bring? Here are a few things I would say to her:

✅Don’t make work the only important thing in your life in the absence of being a mother. Life has SO much more to offer.

✅Don’t think that you have failed by not being able to do the one thing that you think you were put on this earth to do – which is to be a mother. You will blame yourself for a long time, you will beat yourself up over the loss of Frankie and go over and over what you did “wrong” and what you did to cause his chromosome abnormality. But it was a one-off, unexplained, “de-novo” as the genetic counsellors told you. Nothing would have prevented it.

✅Stand up to those who bully you and to those who hurt you and betray you. You are shocked when it happens to you, but you are worth far more than you think.

✅You can do ANYTHING you want and anything you set your mind to. Don’t stay in jobs you hate or do work that doesn’t excite you or thrill you. You are FAR more capable than you realise, and it is only in 2019 that you start to understand this when you win four cyber security industry awards for your work with the UK Cyber Security Association.

✅Get rid of those masquerading as “friends” sooner than you do. You will have a strong gut feeling about those people – don’t ignore it.

✅Forgive those who treat you badly, who hurt you and who betray you. Karma will get them all eventually, and in some cases you will be very lucky to be able to watch when it does get them.

✅The most important things in your life are your parents, your husband Russell (you don’t know it yet, as you can’t imagine being with anyone other than your ex-husband, but Russell will become the most important person in your life), your dog Poppy and the few friends you have in your life who you trust despite the hurt and betrayal of ex-friends who are no longer in your life.

✅You will make some amazing friends online via Facebook and Twitter, some of whom you won’t get to meet. But they are still just as good friends to you, and you can’t imagine your life without them.

✅Make memories while you have the chance. They will last you a lifetime.

✅You will know everything there is to know about arranging funerals and what to do when someone dies. You might laugh at this now, but people will start turning to you to help them when they lose a loved one and to help guide them through the myriad of things that need to be done on a practical level after death.

2020 and beyond for me…..

So, what do I think 2020 and the future holds? What things will I accomplish?

Firstly, I don’t do new year resolutions. After all that has happened to me in the last ten years, I think that making new year resolutions is pointless. That is not to say that I don’t have goals – of course I do and there is lots I still want to do in my life, especially in my work in cyber security. If there is one thing that I have learnt it is that tomorrow is NOT guaranteed, so I only live for the 24 hours that are in front of me. I enjoy that time, I savour it, and I make memories.

I do know this for sure – 2020 will be a very tough year for me. There is no getting away from that. I will take some deep breaths, hold my head up high and be ready and prepared for the challenges that 2020 will bring to me, especially with my Dad and his health, as if the specialists are right about what he has, he is only going to go one way and he’s going to need me more than ever. To be there for him and be what he needs me to be, I need to put myself first more and look after myself, as I cannot pour from an empty cup. I can’t possibly look after my Dad if my own resources are depleted. I need to pull up my big girl pants for 2020 like never before.

So this year I will look after myself and nurture myself more. I will exercise more (and I have a very nice home gym for this purpose now). I will eat better and do my very best to have breakfast every day, something I am hopelessly bad at. I will make sure I get enough rest and sleep, and not push myself too much with my work. I will learn to say NO more – and mean it.

My advice to you all in 2020 and beyond…..

If there is ONE thing that I can tell you, it is to make the most of every second you have, and every day that you have, for life can change in the blink of an eye. I had NO idea back when this photo of me was taken with my ex-husband in December 2009 how much my life would change and how different things would be for me exactly ten years from that point. My life has changed in ways I would never have foreseen.

I would also say to you don’t take your health for granted, it is VERY precious indeed. I cherish each day that I still have my health, for I could wake up tomorrow and it could be gone. I’ve seen that happen first-hand with my Dad – he went from being well and able to being reliant on us all to help look after him practically overnight, and he had had no retirement to speak of to enjoy himself. Sadly, he has proved that when your number is up when it comes to your health, your number is up, and there is nothing you can do about it. As the quote goes from the film “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”: “You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went, you can curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.”

I am VERY blessed indeed to have my soul mate and love of my life Russell, my parents, amazing friends (now that I have got rid of all the ones who were masquerading as friends), my wonderful dog Poppy, a roof over my head, food on the table, warmth and everything I could ever need. I am truly rich because of all these things.

I learnt one thing for certain over the last 10 years. NOTHING is guaranteed, life is WAY too short and VERY previous indeed. I do NOT intend to waste a second of it. In the words of the song by Elton John: “I’m still standing, better than I ever did, looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid, I’m still standing after all this time, picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.”

Here is to the next ten years, whatever they will bring…and to life ❤️❤️ xx

#2009vs2019
#10YearsAgo
#10YearChallenge
#TenYearChallenge

Remembering Freddie Mercury on the Anniversary of his Death

Remembering Freddie Mercury on the Anniversary of his Death

On this day in 1991, my idol and #LoveOfMyLife Freddie Mercury passed away from AIDS related pneumonia aged just 45 years old. As a huge fan of Freddie and of Queen I felt the loss of Freddie profoundly. I couldn’t believe that he had gone, and I still can’t believe it to this day.

While Freddie may have left us way too soon, I am so grateful to the remaining members of Queen, in particular Brian May and Roger Taylor, for keeping Freddie’s memory alive and strong. They have brought Freddie and Queen to a new generation of fans and Queen to the masses again the release of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I know I have seen it a gazillion times, but that film has changed my life. Ever since I heard the quote “fortune favours the bold” in it I knew I had to #BeMoreFreddie and follow my dreams. Fast forward a year and I’ve done and achieved things I never thought possible. Fortune really does favour the bold. Queen’s songs are my anthems, in particular “We Are The Champions” and “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

I have written a few blogs on how much Freddie Mercury and Queen impacted on my life, and how they made a strong impression on it. The links to my blogs are below:

https://lisaventura.co.uk/memories-of-queen-and-freddie-mercury-inspired-by-seeing-bohemian-rhapsody/

https://lisaventura.co.uk/fortune-favours-the-bold-how-the-film-bohemian-rhapsody-changed-my-life/

https://lisaventura.co.uk/5-life-lessons-from-the-queen-biopic-bohemian-rhapsody/

https://lisaventura.co.uk/review-bohemian-rhapsody-the-movie/

Thank you Freddie and Queen for being such a huge inspiration to me. Through you I have learnt to take more risks, that fortune favours the bold and that we should all make an impression darling!

RIP Freddie…..I still love you xx

#FreddieMercury
#FreddieForever
#Queen
#QueenForever
#LoveOfMyLife
#AlwaysReadyForFreddie

Fortune Favours The Bold: How The Film “Bohemian Rhapsody”​ Changed My Life

Fortune Favours The Bold: How The Film “Bohemian Rhapsody”​ Changed My Life

One year ago today I saw the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the cinema for the first time and at the risk of sounding cliched it changed my life.

I’m sure many of you know how much of a fan I am of Queen and especially Freddie Mercury; I was inconsolable when he died on 24 November 1991. I grew up with Queen, Freddie and their music from the moment I was born and when Freddie died so young at the age of 45 it hit me hard.

I’d heard that a biopic about Queen and Freddie was going to be released, and after some false starts over the last ten years or so it eventually hit the cinema screens. I was hooked. One line in the film hit me and resonated with me like nothing else.

Fortune favours the bold.

There are any other life lessons to be found in Bohemian Rhapsody, and I’ve written about these here in this blog – https://cybergeekgirl.co.uk/5-life-lessons-from-the-queen-…/. Seeing Bohemian Rhapsody for the first time on this day 1 year ago something clicked in me and I knew that I had to go for the things I want and for the work I love doing.

Fast forward a year, and I am a triple award-winning cyber security consultant and professional. I’ve won SC Awards Europe’s “Outstanding Contribution to Cyber Security” award, the UK Cyber Security Awards “Cyber Security Professional” category and Women in Cyber Awards USA “Supporter of Women in Cyber Security category. I am undertaking a contract delivering security awareness to staff for a leading firm of solicitors in the UK. I run a thriving cyber security community through the UK Cyber Security Association. I am an author, blogger and keynote speaker at conferences and events. I am part of a thriving infosec and cyber security community. I’m writing a book entitled “The Rise of the Cyber Women”. I’ve made amazing friends and learnt so much in a year. And I heard last week that I am one of SC Magazine’s Top 50 Women of Influence in Cyber Security. I am very proud of all of it.

All I’ve done, the only change I’ve made, is to be clear about what I want, gone for it and asked for things that I know will help me along the way. I’ve been bold, forthright and confident, even if I don’t feel as if I am confident. I suffer from Impostor Syndrome, but I try to overcome it as best I can!

This is only the beginning. I have so much more that I want to do and so much more that I want to accomplish. But I will never forget that Queen and especially Freddie showed me the way. They opened the door by including the line “fortune favours the bold” in “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The rest was up to me. And it still is up to me. I am the only one in charge of my own destiny. I am the one who is responsible for my actions, my achievements and my failures – no-one else.

I’ve seen “Bohemian Rhapsody” so many times since a year ago today that I’ve lost count, and I look forward to watching it many, many more times.

Thank you Freddie for always being with me, even if you are no longer on this earth. And thank you Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon for keeping Queen alive and keeping Freddie’s memory alive. I can’t thank you all enough!

Altogether now – aaayyyyy……ohhhh forever. I still love you Freddie and Queen, and I always will xx

#FortuneFavoursTheBold
#BohemianRhapsody
#Queen
#FreddieMercury
#QueenForever
#FreddieForever
#AlwaysReadyForFreddie

Breaking The Silence: I Am An #EmptyArmedMother

Breaking The Silence: I Am An #EmptyArmedMother

As well as it being Cyber Security Awareness month, which is a huge deal in my work industry, October is also Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month.

I am sharing this picture of myself holding my much loved and much wanted son Francesco “Frankie” Enrico Ventura. He was born sleeping when I was 33 weeks pregnant; he never opened his eyes, nor did he take a breath in this world.

After having 10, yes 10, early miscarriages all around the 5-6 week mark and losing my Frankie when he was born sleeping, I am one of the “1 in 4” who loses a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or neo-natal death. It is a shocking statistic, and one of the things I do aside from my work in cyber security is to raise as much awareness of baby loss as possible to help break the silence and taboo around this subject.

I may not be a mother in the “traditional” sense, but I am still a mother, albeit an empty armed one. And being an empty armed mother brings its own challenges. The time I would have spent with my Frankie has to be filled somehow, and I now spend my time forging ahead in a career in cyber security. I always have in the back of my mind that the life I have now is the life I wasn’t meant to have. Today I should be the mother of a son who has not long starting school and is approaching his 6th birthday. But it is life I have got, so I am making the best of it and trying to achieve as much as I can.

Such is the dedication to my work these days that I’ve even won awards for what I do, and what I do has become, as Freddie Mercury says in the film Bohemian Rhapsody, a distraction from the in-between moments.

There is a scene in Bohemian Rhapsody where Freddie meets his future partner Jim Hutton for the first time. All his friends have just left a party he held at his house and Freddie says to Jim, “They’re not my friends, not really. They’re distractions”. Jim asks, “From what?” and Freddie replies “The in between moments I suppose. I find them intolerable. All of the darkness you thought you’d left behind comes creeping back in.”

That is EXACTLY how I feel today. And why I choose to put so much into my work. If I stop the in-between moments happen and I go back to that dark place where I was when Frankie was born sleeping. I know that he wouldn’t want me to be in that dark place, so I try very hard through my work in cyber security to stay out of it.

Whatever I do now work and career wise is for my Frankie, in the hope I can make him proud of me. I want him to look at me from up there, see me winning the awards I have won, see me being the best version of myself and see me making huge strides and headway into the cyber security industry as the CEO & Founder of the UK Cyber Security Association and as an author, blogger, thought leader and keynote speaker in the cyber security industry and say to everyone he’s up there with, “that’s my Mommy.” THIS is why I do what I do, and why my work means so much to me now. It helps me avoid and get through the “in between” moments. I know such wonderful and lovely people in the Infosec community (with one or two exceptions) and I’m grateful for all of you.

If any of you would like to read more about my awareness raising work in this area, please visit my blog www.frankieslegacy.co.uk.

What Comes First For You? Work….Or Family?

What Comes First For You? Work….Or Family?

This is a recent photo of me and my Dad. My Dad means absolutely everything to me and is my whole world. However, he has a myriad of health conditions that he developed nearly 2 years ago in October 2017 including epilepsy, mobility problems and he is now being assessed for possible dementia. Overnight my Dad changed from a strong and independent man who enjoyed life to having to be driven around everywhere and having so much done for him in his day to day life. Today I heard a comment that I shouldn’t put my parents first because “they won’t be around forever.” And this got me thinking.

I make no apologies for the fact that my Dad comes before EVERYTHING for me. Sometimes I am amazed that I have achieved all that I have in the last 2 years with the UK Cyber Security Association and my work in cyber security because of the amount of times I have had to put things on hold to help my Dad, or change course to be there for him. Sometimes I worry that it makes me look unreliable if I have to rearrange a meeting or if I’m not able to be at an event that I’d expressed interest in, but my Dad’s health conditions mean that I sometimes have to be called on for him at a moment’s notice.

I am very lucky to have the support of my wonderful husband who does so much for my Dad as well, and as a team i.e. me, my husband and my parents, we manage – just about! It isn’t easy to never have any stability and to never know when the next seizure will happen, or if my Dad will have a fall, or if he has to be in hospital, but we navigate all the curveballs my Dad’s health throws at us – often on an almost daily basis!

I could give up what I do work wise, and one day it may well come to that to look after my Dad, especially if he does indeed have dementia. The point of this post is to get you all to think and think hard about WHY you all do what you do. As business owners we can often work all the hours under the sun, often for no return but for great personal reward. Often this is at the detriment of your family. You miss key family events, you are often not there for your children and you don’t spend as much time as you should with your family – because business and work comes first.

Please don’t miss out on precious family moments or for being there for your family because of business or work. I’ve had so many family bereavements since 2013 that I know from bitter experience how fragile and short life is. Make the most of it, and don’t waste a second of it, but most of all, if you have a good family make the most of them NOW. You must provide for them and their future, of course you do. But don’t make work your life. Don’t regret the time you spent on your business and work that you could have spent with your family. Get the right balance that works for you.

I’ve made quite a few changes in order to spend as much time as I can with my Dad, while still trying to be as productive work wise as I can, and I will continue to do so. Your family is precious, enjoy them and make the most of them. If you don’t have a family, focus on you and what makes you happy. Life is short and time is precious. Don’t waste it. Yes your family won’t be around forever. And that is even MORE reason to be there for them while they ARE here.

If you combine work with looking after your family, especially if you have to look after elderly parents like I do, what things have you done that work for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and if the changes you have made have helped you.

My Journey Into Cyber Security – Part 5

My Journey Into Cyber Security – Part 5

What advice would I give to women who want to enter the cyber security industry?

  1. Take chances and don’t let yourself be bullied or intimidated
    This is easier said than done in such a male dominated environment, but in my experience the worst bullying I have encountered has been from other women in the industry, and not from men. Stand up for yourself, and don’t be afraid to fight for what you want.

  2. Network and find mentors
    Go to meetups and networking events and find other women who are also in the cyber security industry who you can learn from. I did this hugely in my early days in the industry and I still do it today, and I count Professor Sue Black and Dr Emma Philpott MBE as two of my biggest inspirations in the tech and cyber security industries.
  3. Look for opportunities on an internal basis first
    The best place to start looking for opportunities in the cyber security industry is within your current organisation, so liaise with your own security team. There is often a myriad of opportunities in areas such as training, program management, incident response, cyber security and tech writing and cyber security awareness and training.
  4. Be confident
    This is often easier said than done and most women will find this difficult regardless of what industry they are in, and especially if they are feeling ignored, ostracised or outnumbered by their male counterparts. Speak and act decisively, even if you don’t feel that way.
  5. Learn, learn….and learn some more!
    Cyber security, as with any career, is a constant learning journey. Every day there are new challenges and new threats to overcome, and there is room in the industry for managers, generalists and for those who have deep technical expertise.

Finally……

My story is not over yet. I still have much I want to do and accomplish in the cyber security industry. I have many more people, businesses and organisations to reach in order to raise awareness of the growing cyber threat and why they should take cyber security more seriously.

If I can do it, anyone can do it. Never give up, never surrender…and in the words of the great British actor Brian Blessed, “Follow your dreams, and don’t let the b****rds grind you down.”