FOR THE COMMON GOOD
Former Masterchef finalist Tracy Collins juggles her hectic lifestyle with her new role as an ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia.
There’s nothing like a health scare to make you reassess your priorities. When Barossa Valley hairdresser and MasterChef Australia 2014 finalist Tracy Collins was bedridden with a mystery virus and pleuritis in 2008, she made a pact with herself that if she recovered, she would live the rest of her life with no regrets.
“I had three little children and Charlie, my youngest was only one at the time,” she recalls. “The medical profession told me there was nothing more that could be done to help me and we really didn’t know if I was going to get better. My husband, Jaysen, was looking after the kids and trying run our wine business and then the GFC hit and for a while there, we didn’t know if we were going to lose our home and business. I was lying there thinking through all the ‘what ifs’ in my life and I pretty much decided that if I got better, I’d never again hesitate to take on a challenge or embrace an opportunity.”
After a full year’s recuperation, Tracy determined to do her bit for her family’s financial security by starting her own hairdressing business, at first from home and later from small premises in her home town of Angaston. Customers responded to her strong environmental ethic and sustainable approach and the salon has gone from strength to strength and won numerous eco awards. In spite of suffering yet another health setback when she required surgery for a spinal injury in 2012, she also threw herself into charity work and has directed her considerable energies behind causes as diverse as the Snowdome Foundation (blood cancers) the Hutt Street Centre (homelessness) and Walk for Water, which raises money for clean water projects for third world countries.
Most recently Tracy has ramped up her commitments another notch by agreeing to become one of Ovarian Cancer Australia’s (OCA) ambassadors and committing to promoting awareness of this insidious disease, which claims the lives of 1000 Australian women every year. “Unfortunately a lot of my family and friends have been affected by different cancers,” she explains. “In 1984 my Nana passed away within weeks of being diagnosed with a cancer that may initially have been ovarian. The problem with ovarian cancer is that it’s such a blind disease. There is no early detection test and most women could easily dismiss the symptoms as being caused by something less sinister. Take bloating, for example. Lots of women experience bloating at some stage in their cycle, but it is also one of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. So it’s part of my role as an OCA ambassador to remind women to be in tune with their bodies and their fluctuations, so they are aware if something is wrong and have it investigated promptly.”
The bald facts surrounding ovarian cancer lend urgency to Tracy’s message. The disease has the lowest survival rate of any women’s cancer. In Australia, the overall survival rate for women with ovarian cancer is 43 per cent. Compare that with breast cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of 89 per cent. If diagnosed early, the majority of women could survive. Unfortunately however, most women are diagnosed with advanced stages of the disease. While ovarian cancer most commonly afflicts women aged older than 50, it can affect women at any age. What’s more, the symptoms, which include bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, frequent urination and feeling full after eating a small amount, can easily be dismissed as having other causes, or not being sufficiently significant to warrant making a doctor’s appointment. While there has been no significant change in treatment options since the 1970s, OCA has recently launched a national action plan for ovarian cancer research.
“The latest research shows that ovarian cancer is not just one disease, but a collection of diseases with different characteristics and molecular structures,” Tracy explains. “The national action plan is the first step in changing the way the research is directed and funded.”
Not content to simply talk the talk, Tracy also agreed to actively promote the ovarian cancer cause by hosting an Afternoon Teal at the Barossa home she shares with Jaysen, daughter Finella (12 years) and sons, Harper (nine years) and Charlie (seven years). “I come from a long line of German Barossans,” she explains. “Even though my mum wasn’t much of a cook, I’ve grown up surrounded by food and wine and to me, entertaining is integral to the way we live. I simply can’t imagine inviting people over and not sharing food with them. Food is always enhanced by family and friends.”
With her reputation in the Valley as a passionate foodie, not to mention finalist from this year’s MasterChef Australia the invitation to take Afternoon Teal with Katy is a not-to-be-missed occasion. Her friends eagerly turned up to support the cause and enjoy a menu that included smoked salmon on rye, blue cheese and quince paste oatcakes, cream cheese pastries and a lavish Gironde (almond sponge) with vincotto strawberries.
Words: Kirsty McKenzie
Photography: Ross Williams
Styling: Bronte Camilleri