Vicky Phelan: ‘My motto for life is to live for the moment’

Life Lessons: Vicky Phelan, cervical cancer advocate and author, on overcoming life's big challenges

An unfulfilled goal?  ‘My unfinished PhD thesis. To this day, it still bothers me that I did not see it through and earn my doctorate.’

An unfulfilled goal? ‘My unfinished PhD thesis. To this day, it still bothers me that I did not see it through and earn my doctorate.’

 

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?

The biggest challenge I have faced in my life was, and still is, trying to stay alive.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

From my secondary school teacher Miss Keyes, who was also the career guidance counsellor in our school, who encouraged me to go to college. Education has saved my life.

And the worst?

To give up on finding a drug or a clinical trial to keep me alive.

Is there a moment that changed your life?

My car accident in France 25 years ago. My experience of another medical system made me start to question my care when I returned home to Ireland. This experience shaped the person I have become.

Who do you admire most?

My daughter, Amelia, who has faced more in her 14 years of life than I have had to face in my 45 years. She has faced all the obstacles put in her way with courage and without complaint.

What is the most pain you have ever experienced?

Physically: following my car accident in France. I broke 70 per cent of the bones on the left side of my body and had to spend five weeks on the flat of my back because I shattered my pelvis and broke six ribs, so there wasn’t much to distract me from the pain. Emotionally, the most pain I have ever experienced was in the wake of my daughter’s horrific burn injuries, following an accident at home when her dress caught fire.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

Miss Keyes, who saw something in me that I did not see myself. She encouraged me to believe that I could go to college, and that I could do anything that I set my mind to.

Is there a practical thing you do to help your personal development?

Research. My researching skills have literally saved my life.

Where do you go for a sense of calm and time out?

Doughmore beach in Doonbeg, west Clare. It is my little piece of heaven.

What is your biggest flaw?

Impatience.

What is your worst habit?

Poor time-keeping. I always leave it until the very last minute to leave to get to where I need to be and I am almost always rushing to get there on time. I am often late unless someone else is in charge of getting me there! My friends would probably say my most dominant trait is stubbornness.

Do you have an unfulfilled goal?

My unfinished PhD thesis. To this day, it still bothers me that I did not see it through and earn my doctorate. Being awarded an honorary doctorate by UL and an honorary fellowship by WIT last year more than made up for it, though.

What are you most proud of?

Not signing a non-disclosure agreement. That one decision has saved lives, helped other women to get the support they needed and has opened up a wider conversation about women’s health and women’s issues in Ireland today.

What is your life motto?

My motto for life is to live for the moment. None of us knows when life will throw us a curveball or be taken away from us. So, see the beauty in nature at this time of year. Go to the sea and listen to the sound of the waves. Sit down and spend time with your children and forget about the housework!

Overcoming by Vicky Phelan and Naomi Linehan is published by Hachette Ireland

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