Emma Mhic Mhathúna, who was diagnosed last week with terminal cancer, has called on the women who received incorrect smear test results through the CervicalCheck programme not to “suffer in silence” but to join together in support of one another.
Mhic Mhathúna has said the Government should establish a support network for women misinformed of the results of their CervicalCheck screening so they know where to turn for information and guidance. She said the network should also be extended to the women’s husbands, partners and children who have also been hugely impacted by the revelations of recent weeks.
“We need to come together. I know in Kerry there are silent protests being organised and if the women want to come and talk to me anonymously they can do so. The husbands and brothers too. Don’t suffer in silence, link in with us.
“It’s a sad story but we’re all in it together. You can sense that we need to hold hands here, this is serious and there are people dying. It feels like we’re all in mourning. But at the same time, the emotion is what’s driving us.”
Mhic Mhathúna (37) is one of the scores of Irish women who developed cervical cancer after being told their smear tests were clear. It emerged last month that some women’s test results were inaccurate and that the revised results were kept from them for years. In 2013 Mhic Mhathúna was given the all clear on her smear test. Three years later, following her 2016 smear, she was diagnosed with stage 2B cervical cancer.
Last week Mhic Mhathúna was told her cancer was terminal. She is awaiting the results of a scan which will determine how much longer she has left to live.
Just weeks before her diagnosis, Mhic Mhathúna had her cervix examined as part of the standard procedure for survivors of cervical cancer and says she was told it was clear. “The most dangerous time when your cancer can come back is in the first two years but women with cervical cancer are only being examined in the cervix. In my case the cervix is healthy but it’s travelled through my lymph nodes and it’s started somewhere else.”
Last year Mhic Mhathúna took part in a HSE campaign calling on parents to ensure their teenage daughters were vaccinated for HPV (human papillomavirus). She had initially withdrawn her daughter from the vaccination programme after hearing scare stories online but signed her back up after her own diagnosis with cervical cancer. She does not regret taking part in the campaign and supports the promotion of the HPV vaccine but is worried the data being relayed may be incorrect following the revelations of recent weeks.
“The doctor from the Coombe states that 90 women will die every year from cervical cancer and while that’s true, how many of those 90 are dying because of the State? The HPV vaccine wasn’t explained to people on a human level when it became available. It’s like anything in this country, the language that’s used isn’t simple so we misunderstand and our perception is distorted.”
Mhic Mhathúna says her five children – Natasha (15), Séamus (11), Mario (10), Oisín (6) and Donncha (2) – are devastated by the news of their mother’s illness but that she is determined to continue with normal life for as long as possible.
“The weather’s getting nice and the summer’s coming. I live near the beach and I’m going to enjoy my children. They’re my focus.” Asked what she hopes for their future, she replies “to finish their education, stay positive, go to college, don’t take drugs and don’t have bad relationships”.
“And not to have any bitterness about all this,” she adds. “That’s why I’m doing this. The children are the main drive behind this for me. What’s gonna happen here is the children of the women who have gone will link together and form some type of family bond where they can come together even once a year in commemoration of those of us who died. They’ll have a sense of security and comfort with one another.”
Nearly three weeks on from the initial reports of Vicky Phelan’s misread smear results, Mhic Mhathúna believes women are “finally being listened to”. “Somehow I’ve managed to get the Government to actually listen and I have a really good chance now to make positive changes. The accountability still needs to be dealt with but it’s great the way the Government has gotten the message that we need to come first.
“We haven’t lost our spirit. With Irish people you never know where boundaries are because we take so much lying down. We forgive but we never forget and this is something we’re never going to forget.”
“It’s not actually easy to speak up and especially when it’s to do with our reproductive organs. We just need to keep sticking together.”