Rockingham cancer survivor chronicles battle in new book Chemobrain

Stuart HortonSound Telegraph
Rockingham mother Tracy-lea Connors.
Camera IconRockingham mother Tracy-lea Connors. Credit: Picture: Tanita Seton

A Rockingham resident who beat breast cancer has outlined her experiences battling the disease and her family’s history with cancer in a book to be launched on Sunday in Baldivis.

Tracy-lea Connor was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2011 and was the first person in Australia to be successful in having a total and permanent disability insurance policy accepted under cancer-related cognitive impairment.

With cancer so extensive it required six months of chemotherapy to gain clearances for surgery, Ms Connor knows chemotherapy saved her life — her tumour shrunk by 50 per cent, making a mastectomy possible.

She said despite her experience she would in no way ever imply chemotherapy should not be done, but said more focus should be placed on the need for increased care when addressing the aftermath.

“The best analogy is a person requiring an amputation to save their life — it’s a given, but the disability of the amputation needs acknowledgement, resources, support and rehabilitation to ensure the best opportunity to live a good life,” she said.

In Chemobrain — a term used to describe cancer-related cognitive impairment — Ms Connor considers the link between trauma and cancer, with a close examination of her personal and family history.

While she knew breast cancer would be tough, Ms Connor was unaware some people never recovered on a cognitive level, and didn’t know her income protection would need to support her for two years, or that she wouldn’t return to work.

“I was laying there about to feel the pain of a five-needle punch hit my right breast, aside from the fear of dying, all I could think was ‘thank goodness I put considerable insurance in place after my brother passed away four years prior’,” she said.

“Even if I let my kids down by dying early, at least they’d have a meaningful inheritance.

“So many people were interested in the David and Goliath battle for my entitlements. I knew that having set a legal precedent others would benefit from, it was important for me to get the story out to those who needed the information the most.”

Inspired to write her book by the sight of Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi’s Super Brainon her bookshelf, Ms Connor started Chemobrain by considering the prevalence of cancer despite a lack of the BRCA mutation in recent generations of her family tree.

“In the last three generations, 16 people from my genealogy — primarily on my father’s side — received a cancer diagnosis,” she said.

During her recovery, she found knowledge and power from reading, in particular Ian Gawler, who provided the forward for Chemobrain.

“Tracy-lea uses her personal experience to make powerful connections between the traumas in her life and the development of the cancer that affected her own life, as well as the lives of her siblings,” he said.

Professor Janette Vardy, a medical oncologist and expert in CRCI at Sydney’s Concord Cancer Centre, said Ms Connor’s condition was likely to be permanent.

By sharing her experiences in the book, Ms Connor hopes to help others and impart some of the knowledge she gained to those who may experience a similar journey.

The book will be launched at a grazing table lunch at Mary Davis Library and Community Centre in Baldivis from noon, October 6.

Tickets are available at and include the book, and a donation to Breast Cancer Care WA, Solaris Care or Professor Vardy’s Cancer Survivorship Centre.

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