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Ticking Off Breast Cancer, The Book

Posted by Sara Liyanage on 21 September 2021

Cover of the book Ticking Off Breast Cancer by Sara Liyanage

I’m afraid it’s not good news. We’ve found cancer cells in your lymph nodes.’ BAM. With that, the air in the room was sucked out. I couldn’t catch my breath, I froze in my chair and my entire body started to shake. I’d never experienced shaking from shock before – I thought it was just a saying or something that happened on the telly or in films. I didn’t cry, nor make any noise: no low moaning, howling or screaming. I couldn’t speak. My brain just couldn’t work out what to say at that point. Mum took over and it was she who broke the silence. She sat up very straight in her plastic chair, held up her chin and started speaking. I remember turning to look at her face. She wasn’t crying, which surprised me because my mum is a huge softie and it’s not unusual for her to cry at the smallest thing, let alone at the news that her daughter has cancer. Instead, there was my straight-backed, incredibly brave mum asking all the questions I should’ve been asking but couldn’t because my brain-mouth-body connections had gone horribly wrong.

“Ticking Off Breast Cancer is a candid, thoughtful account of the way Sara dealt with a breast cancer diagnosis. She is one impressive woman.”

Victoria Derbyshire, journalist, broadcaster and writer

“I love the honesty and practicality of Sara’s to-do-lists. It inspires you to create your own – here’s mine: be mindful, be grateful, be kind.”

Sian Williams, journalist, broadcaster and writer

“Sara Liyanage’s candid account of dealing with cancer is beautifully and sympathetically written and should prove a useful resource for anybody needing an insight into what it’s like to have a cancer diagnosis, as well as life beyond.”

Jackie Buxton, author of Glass Houses and Tea & Chemo

Sara’s book is brilliant. As a fellow list-lover, it would have helped me when I was diagnosed. Friendly, witty and incredibly useful.”

Liz O’Riordan, Breast Surgeon, Ted Speaker and Co-Author of The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer: How to Feel Empowered and Take Control

So, what’s the book all about?

It’s basically a breast cancer guide of sorts. It’s an account of my primary breast cancer treatment, describing each step of the way and my thoughts/feelings/general musings about life/love/family/friends/mortality and the impact of cancer upon everything. Plus lots of practical checklists for someone going through treatment for primary breast cancer and their friends and family

I think it’s fair to say that this book is an up and down read: it’s honest and open, with positive moments and grumpy parts. It is most definitely not a “I had cancer so please feel sorry for me” book. I certainly didn’t have the worst experience. I wasn’t diagnosed with stage four cancer nor did I have a mastectomy – I had an unusual situation with no tumour in my breast. But I did have plenty of scans followed by surgery, chemo, radiotherapy, Herceptin and tamoxifen plus all the associated side effects. I’ve also experienced (and continue to experience) the fear of recurrence and spread. However, I’m now out the other side of treatment, happily living with no evidence of disease and I wanted to use my experience to help others…

So who should read it?

Maybe you’re about to start your treatment for primary breast cancer or you’re already going through it at the moment and you’re looking for a heads-up on what to expect at each step of the way. If that’s you, then you’ll get an honest and very frank account of being diagnosed, having surgery, going through chemo, radiotherapy, being menopausal and then trying to move on after treatment ends. Remember though, that we have different diagnoses, treatment and side effects so whilst this is a heads-up of what you might expect, it’s by no means certain that you’ll go through exactly the same.

If you’ve been through treatment for primary breast cancer and you’re now just processing the enormity of what you went through – you could read this book and hopefully relate to some of my anecdotes and some of my musings. Maybe you felt the same way or have similar feelings about things like losing your hair, leaving the house, being a cancer patient, telling people, coping with changes to friendships or facing the Fear…

Maybe you don’t have primary breast cancer, but another type of cancer. I’m fairly certain that you’ll still be able to relate to a lot of what I waffle on about… living in a completely different reality to the rest of the world, the emotional rollercoaster, the anxiety, the loss of control, the realisation of becoming a ‘cancer patient’ and more.

If you have a friend or family member going through primary breast cancer treatment you might find it helpful to know more about what they’re going through physically, emotionally and mentally. It might help with working out how to help them. Plus, I’ve thrown in some practical checklists especially for you – suggestions of how to help a loved one with cancer.

What if you don’t have cancer, you’ve never had cancer and you don’t know anyone with cancer? Should you read it? Why not? Cancer will affect one in two of the population and yet society is often scared to talk about it. I suspect a lot of the fear is fear of the unknown. So why not educate yourself a little and read this account of life during treatment for primary breast cancer. It’s certainly not representative of what everyone goes through during cancer (cancers are different and cancer affects everyone differently) but it’ll give you a little insight to the world of cancer.


Sylvie Henry and Danielle Leslie founders of Future Dreams breast cancer support
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Sylvie and Danielle began Future Dreams with just £100 in 2008. They believed nobody should face breast cancer alone.  Their legacy lives on in Future Dreams House.  We couldn’t continue to fund support services for those touched by breast cancer, raise awareness of breast cancer and promote early diagnosis and advance research into secondary breast cancer without your help. Please consider partnering with us or making a donation.

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