The to-do lists that got me through
If you or someone you know has recently been given a cancer diagnosis, a new book, Ticking Off Breast Cancer, needs to be on your radar. Prima talks to author Sara Liyanage about how her lifelong habit helped her during the worst of times
With Breast Cancer Awareness Month fast approaching, Prima speaks to Ticking Off Breast Cancer author Sara Liyanage
On a cold October day in 2016, lawyer Sara Liyanage’s life swerved dramatically off course when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, aged 42. The married mum of two children, then aged 11 and nine, was catapulted into a world of tests, surgery and treatment, and the anguish and uncertainty that comes with a cancer diagnosis.
In an effort to regain some control, Sara turned to a habit she’d had since her teens: making lists. She kept her life with cancer in order via her notebooks.
‘Even at school, I was the organised one,’ she recalls. ‘I wrote to-do lists and had my revision planned out.
I love a highlighter and have always been a sucker for a nice notebook.’
When a friend was diagnosed, Sara realised her lists could help others, so she created tickingoffbreastcancer.com. Then came her book, Ticking Off Breast
Cancer, which takes all the thinking and organising required and does it for you. It’s also a manual for friends and family. ‘The list came first, but then I felt that my story might be something that other women would want to read,’ she says. ‘Cancer can be a lonely journey.’
Sara’s diagnosis came after she found a lump in her armpit and went to her GP. Investigations followed, but because she’d had harmless cysts in the past, she wasn’t too concerned when she was called in for a follow-up appointment with her consultant. What she didn’t expect to hear was that it was cancer.
‘It was all a bit of a blur and
I just couldn’t comprehend that it was happening to me,’ she says. ‘I was so unprepared at that first appointment, I didn’t even have a pen and paper with me.
‘That’s when I started my Project Cancer notebook – it came to every appointment with me and I wrote down my questions and the answers from the doctors. If I didn’t feel up to it, my husband or mum would take the notes. It was invaluable because so much information is relayed to you and it’s impossible to take it all in.’
PREPARING FOR TREATMENT
‘After diagnosis, I was instantly thrown into this alternate reality of endless invasive tests to find out what and where my cancer was,’ recalls Sara. ‘It was like living in a nightmare.’
The investigations found that Sara had an unusual form of breast cancer – it was in her lymph nodes, but with no accompanying tumour in the breast (there may have been a tiny tumour that had since disappeared). Treatment was to be surgical removal of the lymph nodes, followed by six months of chemotherapy, a course of radiotherapy, and Herceptin injections every three weeks for a year.
‘This was when I started making the lists,’ she says. ‘There’s so much you need to think about, from what to take with you to hospital to what you’ll need to support your recovery.’
‘There’s so much you need to think about’