BRAVE VICKY 'I'd be thrilled to get five more years,' says Vicky Phelan
How campaigner Vicky Phelan stays positive despite 'death sentence'
CERVICAL cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan believes that she has only got a maximum of five years left to live.
But despite a 'death sentence' being handed to her for a misdiagnosed smear test, the brave 45-year-old Limerickwoman reveals she has not been depressed since 2017.
That's despite that not only being faced with a shorter than normal lifespan, she also suffered horrific injuries in a car crash as a teenager in which her boyfriend and best friend died, while in recent years her daughter was severely burned when her nightdress caught fire in an inferno in their home.
And to cap it all off Vicky's marriage recently fell apart.
But the mum-of-two tells Joe Duffy tonight on RTÉ's Meaning of Life programme that she does believe in an afterlife and talks to spirits such as those of her deceased French boyfriend and her grandmother.
"I was back up in Vincent's (hospital) on Wednesday for my 40th infusion, so I'm over two years at this stage now on it," she explains.
"Generally, people stay on it for two years and then they either take you off it, because it has stopped working, but in my case it is maintaining."
She says her last scan six weeks ago showed some shrinkage of her tumours and she has no new ones.
"So if I can stay on this drug and maintain the quality of life I have I'm hoping I will get another you know three, if I got three years Id be delighted, if I got five years I'd be thrilled," she reflects. "To get to 50, I'm 45 now."
She claims she has a visionary aunt.
"I don't believe in God but I believe that people have these gifts and my aunt is one of those and she does see things before they happen and one of the things she said she sees is me standing on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in 2025 and I'm the type of person I will do my best to make it there," she muses. "That will keep me going, I can see myself on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2025."
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 cervical check review found the original result to be incorrect, but Vicky was not informed of this fact until 2017. She sued American-based Clinical Pathology Laboratories over the incorrect test. The case was settled for €2.5 million without admission of liability.
She won plaudits for opening up the scandal by not signing a non-disclosure order.
"I knew at that stage with my court case that there were maybe 15 women who hadn't been told that they could have been misdiagnosed," she recalls. "Within two weeks it had gone up 150 at that point and I couldn't stay silent…
"I didn't sign; it was because I was backed into a corner, I had nothing to lose. Sometimes when you're in that situation where I didn't know at that stage 'how long have I left' but I know I'm not going to be bullied at this stage of my life, 'you have already taken my life away, you're not taking this as well or other people'."
Vicky is still suffering from the effects of the treatment which is keeping her alive.
"I still have fairly sizeable tumours," she admits. "I have a five centimetre tumour mass in here (points to her midriff) wrapped around my aorta and it's not operable. The treatment I'm on now is the only thing that they can give me.
"The way I look at it is there is always somebody out there who is researching new treatments and new cures and a cure may come. The reality is there is no cure for this cancer. There are some cancers where people can get a cure, but cervical cancer still doesn't have a cure, so that's why I can tell you it isn't going to last, it will get to a point where this drug will probably stop working."
She describes the procedures which were done on her as "barbaric", which included the insertion of a large applicator into her private parts.
"They bring you into a radiation room and they attach rods to the applicator and they literally melt whatever is left inside your vagina and that's it, done," she explains.
"The problem with this treatment is after-effects were never really properly explained. I was given a leaflet and it is why I advocate so strongly for this to be more openly talked about, because it has huge implications for women... the amount of women who have incontinent issues after it, unable to have sex, can't have children. You are not the same, you're never going to be the same after it.
"It takes away your sense of being a woman, it's just an awful cancer to get. That's why I do this and talk so openly about the side effects and the treatment of this cancer because they are horrendous. People didn't realise how bad things were."
But Vicky still strives for women to get regular smear tests.
"I have a daughter who is 14 and I want to be damned sure that there is a cervical screening programme that I can leave behind that she can trust, it's as simple as that for me," she stresses.
"I was given a terminal diagnosis and you often see it, it gives you an appreciation of life, nothing else is important."The Meaning of Life is on RTÉ One tonight at 10.30pm