Only twice in the past year has 48-year-old Louise Sceats crumbled, overcome by the reality of a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. The first time was when she thought about how her adored son Teiger may suffer. The second was when she found an old photograph of herself as a five-year-old at the beach in Western Australia, and saw her own innocence reflected. “And I thought, ‘oh, you poor thing, you don’t know what’s ahead’. Now, she feels a sense of acceptance. After years working “like a mouse on a wheel” Louise chucked in the hectic city landscape, moved to the beach and is enjoying a calmer life, focusing on people and pursuits that make her happy. These are her words.
“It all started back in 2018. We had sold our eyewear business and we were working with the new business owners, travelling in Europe doing the trade fair. I lifted a suitcase into the car and felt a pain in my side. I went to see a doctor who thought I had fractured a rib. They gave me a bunch of painkillers and expected it would repair itself.
When it was not getting better my husband and son took me to a physiotherapist who thought she could get me walking without pain in two weeks. But a week later I developed a weakness in my leg, where my leg sort of dropped, and I was sent for an MRI. It was so painful laying down I had to be sedated. I thought I had a herniated disc, but the doctor came in and said he had found an egg-sized tumour on my spine.
That was the Monday, and I was operated on that afternoon to remove the tumour. By the Friday I heard the word cancer, which was shocking. Further tests revealed it had started in my breast and spread to my spine. I was never aware of the hazelnut-sized lump in my breast, which had not even been picked up by mammogram. I also had some spots on my lung.
One thing I have learned with metastatic cancer, is that they take the treatment a lot slower. I had always said that if I got breast cancer, I would just chop my bosoms off and get rid of the cancer. But my doctors told me this was unnecessary.
I did 10 rounds of radiation on my back, to mop up any cells left after surgery. Then I started on a new medication, a cutting-edge therapy that is an amazing drug to basically seek out cancer cells in my body to destroy them. I am also on oestrogen-suppressing medication. I do get exhausted. You learn to go with the flow on the down days, don’t feel guilty and give your body a chance to rest and catch up. Then on the good days you have energy to be with people that mean a lot to you and have a good laugh at life. It’s the only way for me.
When you have early breast cancer there are all the outward signs. You go for chemotherapy and everyone knows. But I feel fine and I look pretty much the same. It is surreal.
My husband Jono and my son Teiger (who is now 23) have been amazing. Jono has been incredibly supportive and kind in every way and Teiger slept in a chair by my hospital bed every night for a week. We have always been close. He has been to see a psychologist to help him process everything and it has been helpful for him. I said to him the other day, ‘You could look at this as one of the best things that’s happened to me, because it puts everything into perspective’. I used to worry about everything, but this has freed me. I have travelled, but it was always about work. Now I want to go to America and I want to go to Japan - it’s about creating memories and doing what I love.
I do think about my own mortality. I would love to see Teiger get married to his beautiful partner. I get wistful looking at him, and it breaks my heart to see him have to cope with all of this. But I am confident he is going to have an amazing life. What would I tell that innocent little girl in the picture that upset me? I would tell her it is going to be okay. I would say, ‘You are in safe hands and you will have an amazing life with the most incredible experiences and fantastic friends. The husband you meet at a party in Bali at 23 will be as funny and crazy as you, and you will have a beautiful boy at 25. You will create an incredible friendship – I met my dear friend Jane Ferguson when I first moved to Sydney, and she has been ‘my person’ through life and all of this. I call her ‘Fierce Jane’. We rent houses together in the UK (where we are both originally from) and get our whole families together for a mad week of dancing, eating and playing silly games. It’s these things that are important.
Yesterday, I got the results of a PET scan and they were very positive. There are little spots left on my spine and lung, but they are very small. When you have this incurable cancer and they say it’s shrinking, it’s special. Who knows for how long? We take it scan by scan.”