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

Prima (UK) - - Contents -

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 tickingoff­breast­ 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.’


‘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’

Sara is now help­ing oth­ers through breast can­cer treat­ment

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