Cancer doctor takes on prestigious new role

‘Your child has cancer.’

Four words that have the power to change a family’s life in an instant.

What comes next depends on many things. One of the most critical - the people surrounding families at their worst moment.  

For more than 20 years, Professor Tracey O’Brien has seen more than her fair share of sadness, delivering news no parent wants to hear. But with sadness, so comes the moments of light. The moments where she can say four different, equally transformative words:  ‘your child is cured.’

Every week in Australia, three children die from cancer - a statistic Tracey, as head of the Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick (SCH) has worked tirelessly to change.

“Every time you have to tell parents that treatment has failed and there is little hope of cure it is devastating,” Tracey said.

“My job is to never accept anything less than excellence. It is what I would want for my children and it’s what every child with cancer deserves.

“Zero deaths is our goal and we won’t stop until we achieve it.”

Tracey’s clinical, research and advocacy work have been recognised on a global stage, and now, after a long standing history at SCH, Tracey is hoping to help change the way cancer care is delivered in NSW as the new Chief Executive and Chief Cancer Officer of Cancer NSW.

Tracey is the first paediatric oncologist to be appointed to the prestigious role.

“It’s humbling to know I can help make a difference and work together with experts to prevent, treat and advocate for all people with cancer,” Tracey said.

“The fact that I’m the first paediatric oncologist to take on this role is not lost on me and I have a huge task ahead that I’m excited and honoured to take on.”

In recent years, Tracey has helped drive the success of the Zero Childhood Cancer Program, a world-first precision medicine program, giving hope to children with relapsed or rare cancers. Since the first clinical trial started in 2017, more than 700 children across Australia have enrolled in the program. Thanks to a recent $67 million donation from the Federal Government and Minderoo Foundation, the program will be extended by 2023, offering the best chance of survival to every child in Australia with cancer.

Championing for even better care and highlighting the power of collaboration is what Tracey does best. By 2025, through her leadership and partnership with Children Cancer Institute, Australia’s first Children’s Comprehensive Cancer Centre will open its doors at SCH. Working together under the one roof, researchers and clinicians will transform laboratory discoveries into targeted treatment options, offering tomorrow’s care today.

To her patients, Tracey is a warm, compassionate and honest doctor, who cares without limits. To her colleagues, she is a passionate leader and innovator, who always puts her patients first.

“Great medicine happens from great teams, not individuals.  I have been surrounded by an incredible team, who have always challenged me to think big and think differently,” Tracey said.

“Healthcare is hard but working together, showing kindness and being driven by a core purpose is crucial to our work.”

While her plate will be full, Tracey will continue to see patients who are five or more years post cancer treatment, in the SCH long term follow up clinic.

Tracey will be missed, but is an asset to the future of cancer care in NSW and beyond.

Congratulations Tracey - thank you for your wisdom and leadership.