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‘I’m afraid it’s not good news. We’ve found cancer cells in your lymph nodes.’
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.
Number 1 best-seller on Amazon and finalist in the 2020 People’s Book Prize
So, what’s the book all about and who should read it?
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’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 women going through treatment for primary breast cancer and their friends and family.
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, chemotherapy, 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?
Someone who has a friend or family member going through primary breast cancer treatment 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.
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’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.
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.
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.
If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book you can do so directly via me or from Amazon and all online bookstores.
REVIEWS FOR TICKING OFF BREAST CANCER
“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 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)
“Loved loved loved loved loved this. Sara is a brave lady! I / nor do I currently know someone closely suffering from breast cancer, however I felt this book was so insightful, and raw and emotional. I loved the tone of voice, the layout with the lists – everything! (except Sara having cancer of course ) I didn’t know a lot about cancer treatments before I read this, I only really knew of the stereotypical bits which Sara covers in the book. I feel I’ve learnt a lot, and it definitely makes me want to be more mindful of the present. I love that Sara had a positive mindset about what cancer has taught her. One of my favourite books this year.” Kayleigh (Netgalley)
“Ticking Off Breast Cancer is honest, equally funny as it is sad in parts and very moving. The most important thing about the book is it’s a positive source for both people diagnosed with breast cancer and for their family and friends. It’s an insightful guide to breast cancer from a lady who has lived through it and come out the other side. The advice in it also applies to many other cancers. Cancer as a whole affects 1 in 2 people and as Sara very rightly says ” 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.” The book is a very practical read that should feature on every to-read list as it breaks down the stigma that seems to surround people discussing cancer when it’s something that impacts so many lives.” Kelly (read her full review here)
“As someone who has already gone through treatment for primary breast cancer it is the relatability of Sara’s words that stands out for me but I recommend this book to everyone, especially those who have had a cancer diagnosis, their families and friends as well as professionals and volunteers working with people affected by cancer. I would have found it useful when supporting others in the past and I know I will find useful in the future.” Julia (read her full review here)
“A beautiful down-to-earth look at surviving Breast Cancer from finding a small lump and embarking on the Cancer Carousel. Sara has managed to cover everything from diagnosis (or D-Day as she calls it), through hospital visits with Mr Breast Consultant, chemotherapy, sickness, hair loss, family life (where her husband thankfully took control of the Project Cancer Notebook) at all the oncology appointments to eventually seeing a light at the end of the tunnel…” Linda (read her full review here)
“The lists at the end of each chapter were a brilliant idea, and although I read this on Kindle, I will be getting myself a copy of this book in case myself or friends or family ever have to endure cancer. At least I can feel I am doing something useful to help myself or them, rather than floundering like a beached whale continually asking how can I help? Give someone a job/chore to do and they will feel useful and you will end up with a pile of clean clothes/clean bathroom/fridge full of meals/childcare.“
Linda (read her full review here)
“This book is a lovely thing for Sara to have done and I am sure it will help millions of sufferers in the future with her light-hearted approach to some grim situations, but invaluable help, advice and sensible lists. Sara admits that she wants to help those who are standing on the edge of the breast cancer precipice, are scared, don’t know which way to turn, where to look online for support. Also help for finding the amazing online links and resources, charities and YouTube videos that Sara found invaluable and will hopefully help the next person who finds themselves Ticking Off Cancer to navigate their way.”
Linda (read her full review here)
“Wow Sara. I didn’t expect to get your book and finish it within 24 hours. It is a beautifully written, eye opening, absorbing write that I could not put down except to go grab the tissues. I am in awe. Thank you for teaching me so much about what you and many others go through and hopefully making me more aware / appreciative of the world around me and a better friend to others.” Emma
“It is a book that is honest, very emotional and real. As Sara takes us through her journey is gives you pointers/advice for anyone going through a similar journey which I think is just invaluable- and it is not exclusive to treatment, side effects, the effects on loved ones but also about friendships. Her section on friendships and how they approach you . What to say , what not to say and also how to deal with friends who abandon you but also if you are that friend what you can do to rectify it. This section I found the most interesting.
This is comprehensive guide of what to do/say and what not to do/say… To share a very private journey in such a beautiful way for me is to be applauded. Thank you so much Sara for this book.” Cen (read her full review here @cenbookfairy_tylwythtegyllyfr on Instagram)
“Incredibly bravely written with her personal life experiences, Sara has laid everything onto the pages of this book, she’s quite literally poured out her heart, fears and feelings. Ticking Off Breast Cancer is an all access, all personal brave account of Sara’s cancer survival without penciling out the dark and low days – very hard-hitting, while providing helpful tips from experience.” The Reading Closet (read her full review here)
“… As someone who’s been through breast cancer, I thought that the descriptions of all of the tests, procedures and treatments were fantastic. Everybody’s experience of these are different, but I think having some knowledge of what they may be like is really helpful. I was particularly taken by Sara’s description of her breast MRI. It took me right back to when I had the same procedure. I was so scared of the tunnel and vividly remember the “boob holes” but reading that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way made me smile and feel that I wasn’t alone…” Juliet (read her full review here)
“I have connected with Sara online over the past couple of years, as she was ahead of me on the ‘breast cancer journey’ (we’re not a fan of that phrase), and had lots of great advice to pass on. I also used her website quite a bit, so really happy to see that she has put all the work together into a book, that’s very easy to read, has helpful lists to help you think through things you may need for (primary) breast cancer… mixed in with a whole lot of gentle humour and insights into everyday life (because, if you’re of working age/a parent, that doesn’t stop for cancer). A really useful book for those who are going through treatment (especially the newly diagnosed and their friends/family who would like to know more).” Bex (read full review on Goodreads)
“‘Ticking off Breast Cancer ‘ is the book you need to read if you or a loved one or even a friend is going through treatment for breast cancer. This is the true story of Sara Liyanage and how she dealt with a devastating diagnosis at just 42 whilst working and looking after her young family. Sara writes with such warmth, honesty and understanding. Her book is filled with lots of useful, helpful, practical advice. This is really everything you need to know and more. She uses lists to give helpful information to people about what they will need before undergoing surgery, chemo, radiotherapy and hormone therapy. I really wish this book had been around when I started my treatment, it would have taken some of the worry away. Sara’s book helps you to know what to expect at every stage. It also helps family members and friends to realise that once you have finished “active” treatment things do not necessarily go back to how they were before and actually many women are still living with the side effects of treatment and the fear of recurrence. Having a cancer diagnosis can be incredibly lonely. I think everyone should read this book just to have an insight about what life is like when you are living with cancer. I was 37 when I was diagnosed and I could relate to so much of it and it helped me to feel less alone. The uplifting quotes at the beginning of each chapter are inspiring and I enjoyed reading them. I really couldn’t put this book down and I would highly recommend it. I read it from start to finish in a couple of days. Do pass it on when you are finished so that other people can learn about Sara’s story and take note of all of her wonderful advice.” Carly (Amazon)
“Since I got ill I find other people’s stories fascinating & Sara Liyanage’s book ‘Ticking off Breast Cancer’ most definitely didn’t disappoint. To any of you who’d like to get an idea of what it’s like to be in that awful cancer bubble this is the book for you. It’s beautifully written & also comes with loads of very useful & practical tips for family & friends of cancer patients. This book had me nodding my head in agreement, in tears at some points but also made me smile too.” Kimberley (Facebook blog as Mrs T versus the big C)
“This book is Sara’s journey through breast cancer, from finding a lump under her arm to the treatment and the help she received from friends and family. This is a great book, it’s really informative with added checklists if you or any family member are going through cancer. It explains in plain and simple terms what to expect how to tell family and friends and not to be scared to ask for help. This was a 5 star read for me, and Sara an inspiration, how she coped with young children and managed to keep it together. I wish Sara and her family the very best or the future, I know from experience how hard it is to see a family member so ill and your not sure how to help, I just wish I’d had Sara’s check lists at the time.” Tammy B (Netgalley)
“It is not unusual to have mixed feelings about reading books others write about their cancer experience. I am particularly mindful of that as a writer and also as a reader. There are times when we can do both – read and write about cancer. Sometimes we can do only one or the other, or none of it. There are times when we don’t want to hear or read another word about cancer, even (or especially) when it affects us. And so I had mixed feelings when considering whether to review Sara Liyanage’s book Ticking Off Breast Cancer: Would it mirror and validate my own cancer experiences? Or would I be left feeling isolated, looking in on someone else’s world? Would I find out new things, which may make me doubt or regret my own choices? Would I be strong enough in case reading may re-trigger memories, traumas and pain? And I also wonder whether cancer-type specific books can be accessible enough to readers with other types of cancer. Feel free to add your own mixed feelings about reading “cancer books”, when cancer has changed your own life and put into question everything you are left with. I am familiar with Sara and her website TickingOffBreastCancer.com for which I contributed a guest post about the emotional and mental impact of cancer. Earlier in 2019 Sara kindly contributed with others to 2 episodes of my podcast Cancer and You. I decided to ask Sara whether she would like me to review her book, and within 48 hours I found a copy in my post box. I have not regretted asking! The book has 27 well proportioned chapters – ideal for readers who (like me) tend to dip in and out. Each chapter starts with a relevant, thought-provoking and inspiring literary quote. Many chapters end with a handy checklist. And throughout the book you will find lists. Sara says about herself “I love a plan and a list.” I, too, love having a plan, but I can’t and won’t do lists. And to be honest, the mention of lists made me slightly apprehensive. But I needn’t have worried. Sara’s writing is effortless, engaging, down-to-earth, non-pretentious and humorous. This all gives the book a rare natural flow – right across the lists. It all ‘hangs together”. I also like her use of different fonts for chapter headings, subheadings and checklists. Everything is well thought through, nicely presented and a pleasure to look at. As Sara says right at the beginning, this is her story, not yours or mine. All our stories are different and equally valid – whatever our cancer. Yet there are common themes, which connect us. While Sara’s story does not mirror my own breast cancer experiences it nevertheless speaks to me. As a reader I feel respected and taken care of, because Sara writes with what I can only describe as empathy. Ticking Off Breast Cancer is one “cancer book” I can whole heartedly recommend – without any mixed feelings.” Karin Sieger (www.karinsieger.com)
“Sara gives an account of breast cancer as it was for her. Wow, but so humbling. It is frank, honest and at times heartbreaking, I will never look at anyone who has survived cancer in the same way again, and yet it is an easy read. I read it in a couple of evenings. I see that most reviews are from people who have suffered from cancer, but this is a book that everyone should read, we all need this information on our back burner. Who knows what the future holds for you, your family and friends. It flows like a story and yet it is a guide like no other. Thank you for sharing this with us Sara.” C Clarke (Amazon)
“A very humbling, thoughtful, honest and inspiring account of Sara’s experience with breast cancer. It had me crying and laughing but really empowered me to help, love and support those I know who are going through something similar. As a friend or family member of some one with any kind of cancer you often feel so helpless and at a loss as to what to do and how to make such a horrible journey bearable. Sara gives some brilliant advice and really practical tips on what would be most appreciated. An invaluable resource for those going through breast cancer and for those loved ones supporting them.” Charlie Quartley (Amazon)
“I read this book in 2 days as it felt like a book I had written myself with so many similarities. As I wait for the next result to know if/when I am having chemo, reading this book has given me so much comfort & great tips to know how to get through Breast Cancer. Also to know how to move on from it too. Thank you Sara for being so open & honest with your feelings & thoughts. It has helped me more than you’ll ever know!” Jo Pack (Amazon)
“I read this because my mother has been going through breast cancer treatment and I wanted to learn more about the illness. It was much easier to learn about breast cancer through the experience of a sufferer as the information is not presented in a clinical manner. No one wants to think of their loved ones going through cancer treatment but this book will show you how you can help and support them. Thank you to the author for being brave enough to share your journey with us.” Angela (Netgalley)
I got to the grand age of 44 without really being involved in any sort of cancer treatment. So when you sent me the book to review I realised after a few weeks that I was actively putting off reading it. I was scared.
I REALLY did not want to read a book about cancer, I wrestled with the challenge for another couple of weeks before I decided I was going to read it for you. If you had managed to get through cancer then the least I could do to show you how much I still value our friendship was to read your book. It took me less than a week to read and I learned A LOT. ‘Ticking off Breast Cancer’ contains very real, useful advice, in a compassionate, non-patronising manner. I never knew there are so many different sorts of cancers, therefore there are many different treatments and consequently such an infinite number of individual experiences. Your portrayal of your emotions through the journey was very effective. Living with Fear, Anxiety, Sadness for months on end, you iterated that in a way that made sense. The lists are brilliant. Practical & useful. A list is a tool that suits my mindset, just in the nick of time too. Claire
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This week for our guest blog post, we’re posting this delicious recipe that the team at Nourish with Jane Clarke have sent our way. We love to share recipes on social media for those of you who are going through treatment and not feeling up to doing much in the kitchen. We’re always looking for quick, easy, healthy and delicious looking recipes and this one fits the bill perfectly. .
Frozen yoghurts and sorbets can be incredibly soothing when your mouth is sore due to chemotherapy. They’re also a refreshing way to encourage your appetite in the warm weather. We love this recipe with raspberries and blackberries – it’s rich in calcium and a good source of protein as well as vitamin C.
Preparation Time: about 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 1-2 hours
1 tablespoon apple concentrate
400ml Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make by hand
Mix the yogurt with the cream and vanilla extract.
Put in a freezer-proof container and freeze for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, whiz the berries with the apple concentrate in a blender to make a purée. Take the yogurt mixture out of the freezer and stir well with a fork to break up the forming ice crystals.
Mix in the fruit purée.
Freeze for another 1–2 hours until it starts to form crystals around the edges.
Stir with a fork, freeze for 2 hours and stir once more, then leave to freeze until needed.
Method using an ice cream maker
Whiz the berries with the apple concentrate in a blender to make a purée, then pour into the ice cream maker, with the yogurt, cream and vanilla extract.
Churn until frozen, then transfer to a freezer-proof container and freeze until needed.
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