Tracey Brennan obituary: Advocate for new cervical cancer drug

Urged the Government to provide equal access to a drug for treatment of cervical cancer

Tracey Brennan was characterised by a friend as a ‘very organised, driven, caring and compassionate nurse’.

Tracey Brennan was characterised by a friend as a ‘very organised, driven, caring and compassionate nurse’.

 

Tracey Brennan
Born:
October 31st, 1985
Died: May 10th, 2019

Tracey Brennan, the 33-year-old woman who campaigned with Vicky Phelan and Áine Morgan for access to a new drug for cervical cancer, has died. Brennan, the mother of a three-year-old boy, Evan, came to national prominence in December, 2018, when she called for the Government to provide equal access to Pembrolizumab (Pembro), a drug that was not yet licensed in Europe for the treatment of cervical cancer but was made available to women caught up in the CervicalCheck cancer screening controversy.

Brennan was first diagnosed with stage two cervical cancer in 2017, following a smear test. She had received treatment but suffered a relapse in April 2018. In December, 2018, Labour party health spokesman Alan Kelly accompanied Phelan, Morgan and Brennan to Leinster House and said that all women diagnosed with cervical cancer needed access to the treatment immediately.

Although they campaigned alongside Vicky Phelan for equal access to Pembro, Brennan and Morgan were not part of the CervicalCheck cancer screening controversy where women had not been told of the Health Service Executive audits that found previous smear tests incorrectly gave them the all clear.

In January, 2019, the HSE announced that it would facilitate free access to the immunotherapy drug for cervical cancer patients on a case-by-case basis in public hospitals where a treating clinician determines that it is in the patient’s best interest. Brennan had already been told by health professionals that she met the clinical criteria for using Pembro but she wouldn’t have been able to pay for the €8,500 it cost for each dose, administered every three weeks.

We have lots of challenges to face on a daily basis but this is something we can go forward with

At that time, Brennan said that gaining access to Pembro “was a fantastic feeling. We have lots of challenges to face on a daily basis but this is something we can go forward with”. She had only taken two doses of the drug before she fell ill again. A friend and colleague said that she had great faith in the drug and a recent scan had shown an improvement. “Vicky Phelan was a brilliant inspiration to her and she was always very upbeat after speaking to her. Tracey wanted access to Pembro for every woman who might find themselves in the same position as her,” her friend said.

Tracey O’Hara grew up in Cloverhill, Co Roscommon, the eldest of six children to Pauline and MJ O’Hara. She attended the Convent of Mercy Secondary School in Roscommon and worked in the Sonas Nursing Home, Cloverhill, as a healthcare assistant. She always wanted to be a nurse but didn’t manage to get into a nursing course in Ireland so she went to study nursing in England, coming home at weekends to see her then boyfriend, Aidan Brennan. She also worked part time in the Rockfield Inn, enjoying the banter with fellow workers and regulars.

After qualifying, she returned home to work in the medical ward at Roscommon University Hospital in 2013. Her friend and colleague, Niamh Gallagher, said she was a very organised, driven, caring and compassionate nurse. “The patients loved her. She educated them and reassured them about their medications.”

She never dwelt on being sick. In April she applied for a new job as a patient advice liaison officer

Tracey married Aidan Brennan in October 2014 and the couple set up home in Grange Four Mile House, Roscommon, some 20 minutes from her family’s home. “Tracey was very family oriented and close to her parents. She organised and looked after everyone. She never dwelt on being sick. In April she applied for a new job as a patient advice liaison officer and thought with the new treatment, that she’d be able to get back to work. She was highly motivated and would have been brilliant at that job,” said Gallagher.

Speaking at her funeral, Aidan Brennan said that his wife fought her battle with “bravery, positivity and with a smile on her face. It’s a pity we didn’t have more time but we have some wonderful memories and they will keep us going. She was too positive to be doubtful, too determined to be defeated and never gave up.”

Tracey Brennan is survived by her husband, Aidan, her son, Evan, her parents Pauline and MJ, her sisters, Amanda, Emma and Laura, her brothers, Michael and Tommie.