Vicky Phelan pictured at the Clayton Hotel in Limerick this week where she was honoured with the Limerick Person of the Month award Picture: Michael Cowhey
VICKY Phelan, the Limerick mother-of-two who exposed the CervicalCheck scandal, says she is spending €1,500 a week on her efforts to keep well “which has now become a full-time job”.
The 43-year-old who was told in January that her stage four cervical cancer was incurable says she will “try anything” in her efforts to stay alive.
“If they told me to stand on my head I will do it. I will do anything,” Vicky told the Limerick Leader this week.
“That is the thing when you get to this point with cancer - you need so much money. I’m spending about €1,500 a week on keeping well. Lots of people don’t have that. I’m lucky I do because of the court case.”
Vicky, who resides in Annacotty, was awarded €2.5m in a High Court settlement with a US lab after she got an incorrect smear test result. She was incorrectly told that she was cancer free in 2011 and was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. In January she was told it was terminal.
Her story sparked a major investigation into how smear tests in Ireland are reviewed and handled. “I do think I have a bit of power at the moment and I’m going to use it until I can’t,” said Vicky who was honoured with the Limerick Person of the Month award this week.
“Between all the treatments I am doing, I am on the road the whole time. It’s a job keeping well. I’m spending three or four hours a day researching and reading. I look at it like diabetes - keeping it under control for as long as I can.”
Her hope is that her candour in speaking out about her own experience will encourage more openness in relation to the disease.
“Most of the women affected in this are young women. People talk about having different cancers and how it changes you - well, try having cervical cancer. It’s gruesome,” she pointed out.
“I don’t think they do the aftercare very well. When I was finished my treatment I went into see the nurse and she handed me this bag of dilators. There was no explanation. I remember walking out stunned going ‘what the hell just happened here?’
“That’s why I’ve been so graphic about it, because I don’t think women talk about it enough.”
Vicky has been on a drug called Pembrolizumab since April after the HSE agreed to cover the costs.
Pembrolizumab is not publicly available at the moment for cervical cancer patients in Ireland and costs in the region of €8,000 per infusion every three weeks.
Vicky also travels to Galway for oxygen therapy and avails of Vitamin C infusions in Portlaoise to boost her immune system. She also attends a bioenergy healer in Ennis to keep her mindset positive.
“He will draw all of the negative energy out of you. I wouldn’t be religious but I am very spiritual. I don’t pray but I do meditate and I do mindfulness. My thing is, if you do good, it will come back to you.”
In the event of the Pembrolizumab treatment failing, Vicky also has a backup option in Buffalo in America. She received her fourth dose of Pembrolizumab this Wednesday.
The mother-of-two says her daughter Amelia, 12, and son Darragh, 7, “know everything” about her illness.
“They never knew it was terminal until the story came out and the following Monday they went the school. I knew that was going to happen. Amelia is in sixth class and all her friends were saying ‘your mam is famous and is on the news’. Darragh is different and I knew somebody had said something.”
A child had told Darragh his mum was going to die.
“I said, ‘well, do you think I’m going to die?’ He said, ‘well you are kind of sick, mam, you are always in your chair - you never get up’. I told him I started my new medicine. I explained it to him that it was like Star Wars - all these little fighter pilots zapping all the tumours.”
Then, last week, when she got the good news that her tumours had reduced significantly due to her new treatment, young Darragh “was ecstatic”.
“He was at home and I was in Waterford getting ready for The Stunning gig and I rang him to tell him.
“He was delighted, ecstatic.”
- For the full interview with Vicky, see the weekend edition of the Limerick Leader, in shops now