Vicky Phelan says doctors to face harsh calls with cancer patients

Amid coronavirus crisis she hopes those with best chance of survival will be prioritised

Cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan has said that doctors are going to be faced with harsh decisions during the Covid-19 crisis and that if a doctor had to make a decision between herself and another person with a better chance of survival, she hoped that they would save the person with the least complications.

People with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of getting infections such as the common cold, flu and pneumonia as well as coronavirus. That is why people with cancer are classified in the most at-risk group and subjected to severe restrictions.

“I’ve kind of made my peace with that,” she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland. “I would hope that if a doctor had to make that decision and was presented with two patients. Me and another person who was in around the same age and who had a better chance of survival. I know this sounds very harsh, I’ve had to get my head around that — I would hope that the doctor would make the decision to save the person who would have least complications and better chance of survival.”

The mother of two was diagnosed with cancer three years after her 2011 smear test results were incorrectly reported as clear. She now has terminal cancer. In 2018 she settled her High Court action for €2.5 million against Clinical Pathology Laboratories Inc, Austin, Texas.

“That’s something I’ve had to get my head around quite a long time ago. I don’t think it’s fair that our doctors would be put in that position, I’ll be having that conversation myself, maybe to make it easier on somebody if it got to that point.

“That’s exactly why I’ve been isolating myself since such an early stage because I don’t want to put the doctors in that position.”

Ms Phelan said that her life has changed drastically since the outbreak of Covid-19. “I have been self isolating for some time, from a very early stage I made a decision around March 4th, when we had two cases at that stage, I decided to stop all social interactions.

"I had a busy few weeks coming up with International Women's Day, it would have meant attending functions with more than 100 people. My oncologist contacted me because he's on Twitter as well, Professor John Crown. He noticed I had a lot coming up and he recommended that I pull out at that stage even when we had small numbers because he could see that this was going to escalate.

“For me some of my friends thought I was crazy, that I was starting at such an early stage, but I’m glad now that I did for myself and other people. Yes, I’m trying to keep myself alive here. I want to make sure I don’t infect other people either. I’m very glad I took that decision fairly early on.”

Ms Phelan also features in a three-minute Irish Cancer Society video titled My Life Matters, where cancer patients and survivors of all ages from around the country urge the public to follow guidelines on staying at home to control the spread of coronavirus.

Irish Cancer Society CEO Averil Power said: “these people have been through so much already and getting this virus could pose a very serious risk to their lives. We know it’s difficult to avoid going out but these are the faces and names of the people we’re collectively saving by doing so. Their lives matter.”

Evidence from China shows the risk to people with a weakened immune system is heightened if they become infected by coronavirus. While those with cancer have a heightened risk of death in such circumstances, it should be stressed the great majority survive.