Just before her tenth birthday, Sarah Anderson complained of a lump in her left arm. An hour later, she was sitting in the doctor’s surgery (a telltale sign that this was 1957 and not 2008). By the evening, her parents had been told by the doctor that their daughter was most probably suffering from a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
For the next seven months, she had operation after operation to remove the lumps which kept appearing on her arm, combined with both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, before it was finally decided that amputation was the only way her life could be saved.
This she discovered when her mother took her aside after lunch and, shutting the door to make sure they were alone, made a chopping action with her right hand above her left elbow.
No words of comfort were said; instead Anderson was taken shopping for a treat ? to Harrods for a new (short- sleeved) dress. ‘ Can you make the sleeves longer?’ her mother asked the salesgirl. ‘ She’s going to have her arm cut off tomorrow.’
Halfway To Venus is Anderson’s account of how she has coped with the repercussions of that loss. But this is not yet another addition to the burgeoning shelves of books about ‘real lives’.
Anderson, who set up The Travel Bookshop in 1979 (later the inspiration for the bookshop in the film Notting Hill), wanted to write a book, she says, that would help us ‘to understand how important arms are’ as well as to give us ‘a sense of what losing one and living without it actually feels like’.