The power of care is…time for goodbyes – Stefan & Louisa’s story

Cancer was not something new to Louisa Butler when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 but it still came as a shock. Unfortunately, she had already been through uterine cancer followed by thyroid cancer. And when Louisa started experiencing pain in her arm in January 2023, on the same day she learned her first grandchild was on the way, her doctor confirmed the breast cancer was back – and had spread.  

Louisa was a country girl, growing up on a cattle farm near Bingara in northern NSW. After a successful career in education in Queensland and NSW and raising two children, Louisa met Stefan in 2004 and married in 2011. 

Only weeks after their honeymoon Louisa was diagnosed with uterine cancer, followed two years later by a thyroid cancer diagnosis. A shared love for travel and the outdoors was often interrupted by the need for ongoing medical care. After the thyroid diagnosis it was Graves disease and ongoing health challenges, but despite it all Stefan and Louisa enjoyed “a good life”. 

In 2019, less than three months after their “first proper holiday in years” and five weeks after getting a beloved new dog, Louisa was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer – fast moving and aggressive. This is when they met their first McGrath Breast Care Nurse from nearby Narrabri. 

Louisa 21st birthday

“Man, we had questions. We’re pretty smart, savvy people. I thought we knew what was going on; but no, we had no idea. We got about a third of what was said in every specialist consultation and we didn’t even always get the same third,” Stefan says.   

“In this first phase our nurse was our interpreter and the person who patiently filled in the gaps, sometimes huge gaps, in what we heard. It’s not just shock either as there is a whole new language to learn as you travel through the journey; breast cancer types, treatments, risk profiles, test types, there are chemotherapy and radiotherapy “words”, there are appointments lined up like witches’ hats at a roadworks on a highway all flashing by in a semi-blur. There is travel and disruption. And what do you tell family and friends? 

“We needed our nurse. Compassionate, experienced in these things, knowledgeable – and connected. That is so important in making things happen that you will inevitably miss,” Stefan continues. 

“Sally, our district nurse Gill and the incredible team at the local hospital ensured we were home until just over a week before my wife passed away, in the garden she loved with the fishpond and fountain burbling beside her. The help was more than physical, it was psychological, it allowed us time for visits and farewells, for sessions of laughter and of tears. It allowed for us to do so much more than could ever be put clearly in words.” 

Louisa died on 31 May 2023, aged only 61, just over four months after being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Stefan says her only regrets were not getting to meet her grandson and not being able to do more travel the couple had planned.  

He says, “We had wonderful support from everyone and I will be forever thankful for that; but the McGrath Foundation nurse is there from the start and will walk with you on your journey, “hold your hand”, answer the questions you didn’t know to ask, talk to specialists if required, recap what you just didn’t hear and will bring with them what they have learnt helping others. 

“So why would you donate to the McGrath Foundation? Because it may be you or your partner, child or parent. It might be an employee or their family member. It might be a friend. And it might be that lady in the Supermarket aisle with the head-scarf and slightly off-colour skin who smiles and thanks you when you reach up to get something off the top shelf they just can’t reach.”

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