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'Understated hero' Vicky Phelan's burning determination to live 'utterly hypnotising'

'For every monster we are blessed with a saint'


Heroine Vicky Phelan

Heroine Vicky Phelan


Heroine Vicky Phelan

SHE is a vaccine against despair, an inspirational, beautiful candle banishing darkness.

Drawing from an apparently bottomless well of courage, Vicky Phelan smothered Ireland in goodness on Friday night, a woman of unfeasible backbone ladling great draughts of positivity into the nation's half-empty glass.

She sat in The Late Late Show studio, a creature with boundless licence to howl at the unfairness of life, and, instead, via her sunlit personality, delivered a gentle rebuke to those of us with a tendency to wallow in self-pity.

An understated hero oozing unforced dignity.

It was a stirring, spellbinding, gorgeous, electrifying, life-affirming, tear-jerking, heartbreaking, hope-inducing audience with a lady who represents the very best of us.

Her softly-stated yet fiercely burning determination to live was utterly hypnotising.

Please, if you didn't catch her live, go looking for it on the RTÉ Player or YouTube. It is music for the soul.

Vicky is fortitude made flesh.

From what magical wellspring of grace does this daughter of Limerick, scandalously wronged by official Ireland, summon the bravery and forgiveness and strength that define her?

Her disposition in the face of terror shames those of us who dedicate a lifetime to moaning about nothing at all.


Vicky Phelan, the cancer patient whose case triggered the cervical smear test controversy (PA)

Vicky Phelan, the cancer patient whose case triggered the cervical smear test controversy (PA)

Vicky Phelan, the cancer patient whose case triggered the cervical smear test controversy (PA)

Dealt a grotesquely unfair hand by life, Vicky somehow radiates the glow of a person staring at a poker of aces.

The tumours that grow inside her, however pitiless and insatiable, are dwarfed by the dimensions of her heart.

Yes, she told us candidly, she is afraid. Of course, she has bad days. She is human, a young mother daunted by the unspeakable torment of leaving her children.

And profoundly scared of the death sentence handed down by State negligence.

She flies to America this week for treatment in a clinical trial, leaving behind daughter Amelia and son Darragh for at least six months, in the hope that the new regimen will slow the cancer and grant her more precious time with them.

Without a sliver of self-pity, she says: "If it doesn't work, Ryan, I have no regrets. What I'm scared of most is not coming back or coming back in a coffin."

Imagine being confronted by those odds and not immediately buckling at the knees.

She is fearful, yet it is the way she faces down that unease and keeps fighting that is so heroic.

Drenched by her astonishing resolve, how many of us felt the river of our admiration burst its banks and flood?

Vicky re-imagined an accursed week, one that saw America submit to the fevered delusions and malignant essence of a commander-in-chief deranged by his lust for power.

If Donald Trump pollutes the groundwater of discourse, it is purified by Phelan, by those doctors, nurses and frontline staff who see the Covid flames licking the walls of the world, but who step into the burning building to seek out the sick.


Outgoing US President Donald Trump

Outgoing US President Donald Trump

Getty Images

Outgoing US President Donald Trump

For every monster we are blessed to find a contrasting saint.

Vicky and Trump exist at polar bandwidths of humanity.

One, a smug and entitled sociopath, born into wealth; a dark heart who walks through life trampling on decency, spitting out great toxic gobs of narcissism, ignorance and malevolence, transfixed by his own delusions.

The other is moral and stout, declining to be broken by the injustice visited upon her, propelled down the hardest path by the love that spills from her core.

One a coward, the other meriting a Purple Heart and every other battle ribbon awarded to those who do not shirk when the drums of war sound and the hardest questions are posed.

I had made a rare detour to Ryan Tubridy's sofa upon hearing that hurling's force of nature, the passionate, generous, livewire Davy Fitzgerald was among the guests. But the show belonged to Vicky as surely as if her signature was on its title deeds.

A woman who has been confronted way too early with the reminder that the sands of the hourglass measuring our mortal journey drain away more quickly for some than others.

As she jets off in search of more days, the rest of us can only look on, marvel, thank our lucky stars and resolve to live our lives a little better.

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