A Quick Overview
Best known for her emotionally charged statement from the steps of the Four Courts in April 2018, Vicky Phelan unearthed one of the biggest medical and political scandal of our times.
It would emerge that, like Vicky, 220 other women with cervical cancer were not informed that a clinical audit – carried out by the national screening programme CervicalCheck – had revised their earlier, negative smear test. In many cases, their cancer could have possibly been prevented.
Background & Career
Mother to Amelia and Darragh, Vicky originally hails from Mooncoin, Co. Kilkenny and is based in Annacotty, Co Limerick. She is the eldest of five children. Vicky insisted on being sent to school a year early – she clearly knew her own mind from a young age.
Upon graduating at University of Limerick with a Bachelor of Arts in European Studies in 1997, Vicky studied and worked at UL where she became a researcher in the Centre for Applied Language Studies. In 2001 she was appointed to UL’s International Education Division.
Vicky joined Waterford Institute of Technology in 2006 to work in the Literacy Development Centre in the School of Lifelong Learning and Education and also completed a Masters in the Management of Education in 2011. Her capabilities and leadership led to her assuming the role of Head of the Literacy Development Centre.
Little did she know how important her education and leadership skills would be in her fight to gain access to the treatment she and many others desperately deserved and to make the state accountable for their mistakes.
In 2018 Vicky was awarded with a WIT Honorary Fellowship, the highest honorary award the Institute can confer to individuals who have demonstrated distinction in a field of human endeavour to such an extent as to provide motivation and inspiration to the community of the Institute and society at large.
Campaign for Justice
In 2011, Vicky underwent a smear test for cervical cancer. Although her test showed no abnormalities, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. An internal CervicalCheck review found that the original result was incorrect, but Vicky was not informed of this fact until 2017. Vicky went onto sue Clinical Pathology Laboratories over the incident and the case was settled for €2.5million. In speaking out, Vicky gave voice to those who had been suffering in silence.
It subsequently emerged that more than 221 women with cervical cancer had initially been given the all-clear based on smear tests carried out by the CervicalCheck screening programme. Vicky and fellow survivor Lorraine Walsh and Stephen Teap (whose wife Irene died from the disease) established the 221+ support group to help the women and their families affected by CervicalCheck scandal.
Vicky initially fundraised to pay for an experimental drug called Pembro (pembrolizumab), the cost of which is up to €8,500 every three weeks. Vicky fought to have the 221 women affected by the Cervical Screening Scandal given access to Pembro free of charge. Following an intensive lobbying campaign, the state eventually agreed to extend the treatment to all cervical cancer patients. Pembro gave Vicky almost 3 years of a quality of life she could never have hoped for on chemotherapy.
In November 2020 Vicky became aware that Pembro was no longer working for her, and she set about finding another treatment. In January 2021, she headed to Maryland in the US and is currently residing there while she undergoes an experimental treatment (Pembro 2.0); a better version of Pembro which she hopes it will give her more time with her family. After a slow start Vicky is now receiving the full dose of Pembro 2.0.
In her memoir ‘Overcoming’, Vicky shares her remarkable, wider personal story, from a life-threatening accident in early adulthood through to motherhood, a battle with depression, her devastating later discovery that her cancer had returned in shocking circumstances – and the ensuing detective-like scrutiny of events that led the charge for a legal action which made history because she refused to be silenced.
An inspiring story of rare resilience and power, ‘Overcoming’ is an account of how one woman can move mountains – even when she is fighting for her own life – and of finding happiness and strength in the toughest of times. It’s an important part of her story but also just one part of a remarkable path of life, so far. This book is searingly honest, deeply personal, shocks at times but is ultimately uplifting.