Nation owes a debt of gratitude to Vicky Phelan

Comment & Opinion

PASSIONATE ADVOCATE, GENEROUS SPIRIT Vicky Phelan in June 10, 2020, just after she completed a 5k walk as part of the Twomey Family 'Remorial' Weekend, held to remember Con, OisÍn and baby Elber Twomey who were killed by a suicidal driver in 2014. Pic: Vicky Phelan/

Death of cervical cancer campaigner met with great sadness

THE death of Vicky Phelan was announced yesterday (Monday) and the news has been greeted with great sadness right across the country. She died in the early hours of Monday morning at Milford Hospice in Limerick, after an eight-year battle with cervical cancer.
Vicky was awarded €2.5 million in a High Court settlement in 2018 against a US laboratory over a smear test taken in 2011, which had been incorrectly reported. On the steps of the courthouse she famously stated: “The women of Ireland can no longer put their trust in the CervicalCheck programme.”
After waiving her anonymity, the Waterford woman, who lived in Limerick with her husband and two children, went on to setup the 221+ Cervical Check Patient Support Group. She did all of this tireless campaigning after she was told in 2018 she had incurable Stage 4 cancer and was given a year to live.
Vicky became a true national icon as she looked continuously for better healthcare for women and she fought for a full investigation into what happened at CervicalCheck. She looked for sanctions for non-disclosure, for access to the drug Pembrolizumab to treat cervical cancer and in recent years she was a staunch advocate of the Dying with Dignity Bill.
The words of President Michael D Higgins summarise perfectly the profound impact that the bravery of Vicky Phelan had on the people of Ireland:
“It is with the deepest sense of sadness that people across Ireland and beyond will have heard of the death of Vicky Phelan. All of us who had the privilege of meeting Vicky will have been struck by the powerful inner strength and dignity with which she not only faced her own illness, but with the sense of commitment to the public good and the rights of others with which she campaigned.
“Vicky, in all of this, made an enormous contribution to Irish society. Thanks to her tireless efforts, despite the terrible personal toll she herself had to carry, so many women’s lives have been protected, and will be protected in the future. She will be deeply missed, by all of those who were in awe of her courage, her resilience, offered not only to women but to all of us in Ireland.”
The people of Mayo were sadly denied a chance to show their admiration for Vicky in person, as her illness meant she was unable to take part in the ‘Climb for Charlie’ campaign organised earlier this year by broadcaster Charlie Bird. Vicky had committed to climbing Croagh Patrick with Charlie at the outset of his campaign to fundraise for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association, but like many other times during her battle, her treatment meant she was too sick to travel to Mayo.
However, her words were undoubtedly an inspiration to Charlie Bird, in his own battle against terminal illness, as he tweeted yesterday: “My heart is broken just hearing about the passing of Vicky Phelan. Over the past year she gave me great support to keep fighting my terminal illness. This whole country should be in mourning at the passing of this remarkable human being. My heart is broken. My hero is gone.”
Vicky Phelan became a household name in circumstances that no one would ever want to face, but her campaigning will be remembered as one of the most courageous in Irish medical history.
The group she founded, 221+, perhaps best described her legacy in its statement yesterday:
“Vicky raised her voice in 2018 because she wanted those in power, those with responsibility to learn from their mistakes. In her own words, two years ago, she said: ‘I don’t want your apologies, I don’t want your tributes, I don’t want your aide de camp at my funeral, I don’t want your accolades or your broken promises, I want action, I want change, I want accountability.’ Let those words be her legacy. Cervical screening saves lives. It failed Vicky in life. In her memory those with responsibility must ensure that it never fails others.”
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.