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Staying strong Vicky Phelan: ‘Four weeks to Christmas and I think I’ll make it’

The message I posted on my social media at the time summed up where I was at: “I’m doing really well, but it won’t last, we all know that. I’m hoping to get to Christmas with my kids.”

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Vicky Phelan on 'The Late Late Show'

Vicky Phelan on 'The Late Late Show'

Vicky Phelan on 'The Late Late Show'

After my hair fell out, I decided to get a wig for ‘going out’. I went for a short blonde bob with a fringe, which I could never have because of my cow’s lick. I knew it wasn’t going to be ready on time for The Late Late Show. I didn’t have a headscarf to match the outfit, so I just thought ‘I’ll go bald’.

I said to myself, what am I’m hiding it for? I don’t wear anything on my head when I’m at home and I only wear something when I go out because you wouldn’t believe how cold your head gets when there’s no hair on it.

When my son, Darragh (10) came home from school on Friday I’d already had my make-up done for the show. He asked me: “Have you had plastic surgery? You’ve loads of fake tan on your head.” I said no, that’s make-up — and Darragh, make-up is not plastic surgery.

Nothing like a 10-year-old to tell you what you look like.

My cancer journey has meant that I’ve had to do a few media appearances and I tend not to get nervous before them. I’m talking to the person in front of me, whether that’s Ryan Tubridy or Ray D’Arcy or anyone else.

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Vicky Phelan pictured with her family in 2011

Vicky Phelan pictured with her family in 2011

Vicky Phelan pictured with her family in 2011


I hoped to get proton beam therapy at Georgetown University Hospital in the US but I was no longer eligible when I developed new tumours. When I came home, I started palliative chemotherapy that made me incredibly sick but also incredibly focussed.

So I stopped. I’m now on end of life, palliative care.

The message I posted on my social media at the time summed up where I was at: “I’m doing really well, but it won’t last, we all know that. I’m hoping to get to Christmas with my kids.”

I had so many messages of support afterwards, but my Dad and my friend Geraldine, who helped me when I was in the US, were getting on to me to put out another message.

My Dad in particular is an avid follower of my social media. Devoted, is the word I’d use. He spends a couple of hours every day reading and liking comments on my Facebook page.

“Would you not think of putting up a post to let them know how you are?” he said to me. “People are worried about you. Just to let them know you’re feeling better.”

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I said, here, I’d better do something.

The Late Late Show had already asked me twice to go on the show and I thought, well maybe now is the time to do it. I think of it as footage that my kids can look back on when they get older.

It always amazes me that stuff that I have to say about the medical profession, like asking questions, or highlighting the side effects of medication like constipation, the day-to-day stuff of living with cancer, resonates with people.

Or when I talk about battling cancer, as though it is a fight. So if I decide to stop taking chemotherapy I’m somehow not a fighter.

That puts pressure people to make certain decisions or to go through treatments that are causing them pain and distress. It’s not just the cancer patient suffering, but their families also suffer watching them. If what I have to say gives another family some comfort and helps them to make a decision that they were unsure about, that spurs me on.

That’s one reason I went on the show. The other is I think we need to talk about death.

It’s going to come anyway — for all of us — we might as well talk about how we want it to be. It would certainly make what’s left of life so much easier for the person who is dying and for their families.

My daughter, Amelia (16) is logical. When we talk about my stopping treatment, she says, well, you got four years.

I told her I wanted to be cremated. I’d heard about nice jewellery designed to hold the ashes of loved ones. I asked her if she’d like one of those. She said she’d love one. I told her that we’ll pick one out together.

Those two or three weeks of being so sick and not even being able to get off the couch really crystallised for me how I want to live the rest of my life. I thought, ‘I’m not doing this’. This was not the way I planned on seeing my days out. I would rather be well for a shorter period of time so I can do stuff with the kids and give them memories to cherish.

That was why getting to Christmas was a big thing for me. I think it would ruin Christmas for the kids if I died.

So I sat down with Jim and planned nice things I want to do with the kids while I am still well: a trip to the zoo, a weekend away in a hotel and few day trips. It’s about spending time with them and making memories.

My friends are coming up to see me, one or two at a time, two or three times a week. I’m sleeping more than I ever did. My body is tired but now, I’m giving in to it.

There are four weeks to Christmas. If you asked me two weeks ago, will I be here, I would have said no. Now? I think I’ll make it.

In conversation with Maeve Sheehan

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