‘There will be tears’: Vicky Phelan to reunite with family after six months in US

CervicalCheck campaigner has been undergoing treatment through a clinical trial

Vicky Phelan says undergoing cancer treatment alone in the US has been ‘very hard’. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Vicky Phelan says undergoing cancer treatment alone in the US has been ‘very hard’. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw


CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan has said the time she has spent undergoing treatment through a clinical trial in the United States has been the “toughest” of her eight-year cancer journey.

Ms Phelan is due to fly home to Ireland on Wednesday for a month before returning to the US for another six-month round of treatment. Ms Phelan has been in Maryland since January partaking in a clinical trial for an immunotherapy drug, a step she took because she “had no other option” but palliative care in Ireland.

Speaking from the US on RTÉ radio’s Sunday with Miriam, Ms Phelan said she is feeling “emotional” at the prospect of seeing her children, Amelia and Darragh, as well as the rest of her family next week. “There will be tears,” she added.

The infusion treatment she is enduring, with the hope it will shrink some of her tumours, has resulted in some concerning side effects, but so far these have been manageable. She was concerned that inflammation could be affecting her brain, but she said she is “lucky” that most swelling has affected her face rather than more serious organs.

While she had bouts of sickness with her cancer treatment in Ireland, having her family nearby was a great comfort. Weathering this trial in the US by herself has been “very hard”, she said, and she has had moments where she wondered if she could keep going.

“At the same time there isn’t much else I can do . . . If I come off this trial it is palliative chemo at that stage and I am done,” she said.

Spending six months away from her family has been a “big worry”, she said. “What if something gets me over here and I don’t get to see my kids or my family again . . . What if I am coming home in a coffin? That is a very real reality for me over here,” she said.

Travel restrictions

Had she known in January that Covid-19 regulations on travel would make it impossible for her family to visit during the six months of her treatment, Ms Phelan said she does not know if she would have proceeded with the trial.

“I really did think that the ban would be lifted at this stage . . . It is going to be hard to come back because I know I am coming back on my own again for God knows how long. It is tough,” she said.

The “phenomenal” support from people in Ireland has kept her going on her journey.

“I have been blown away by the people who have contacted me,” Ms Phelan said. Irish people living in the US have assisted her with her shopping, getting a mobile phone and other “little things that make all the difference”.

Due to return to the US to continue her treatment in August, Ms Phelan said she hopes she has already suffered the worst of the reactions to the drug. The results of her scans could provide a “boost”, but if they do not show signs of improvement, she will wonder if the hardship is worth it.

“I would be hoping for some shrinkage of the tumours to give me a bit of a break,” she said. For now, she is looking forward to spending time with her family and walking the beaches of Doonbeg in Co Clare.