Vicky Phelan: ‘I’d be dead now’ if following medical advice

Cervical cancer campaigner was offered palliative chemotherapy but decided on new drug

May 16th, 2018: Speaking to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee Vicky Phelan has said she is “not interested in revenge” but wants accountability from the health service over the CervicalCheck scandal. Video: Oireachtas


Cervical cancer victim and campaigner Vicky Phelan has said she believes she would now be dead or close to death had she taken medical advice to undergo palliative chemotherapy, rather than carrying out her own research into new treatment.

Ms Phelan said her treatment with “wonder drug” Pembrolizumab has resulted in another small shrinkage in her cervical cancer tumours, following shrinkage of over 50 per cent after she started the therapy.

“It’s quite minimal, but it’s what you want to see,” she said at Waterford Institute of Technology, where she has been conferred with an honorary fellowship. Ms Phelan, who lives in Limerick with her husband and two children, is head of the Literacy Development Centre at WIT.

“I’m happy enough to live with tumours, as long as they’re not growing. I have a quality of life.”

She said she wants women to continue attending their GPs for smear tests and also spoke of the importance of the HPV vaccine for preventing a range of cancers, including cervical cancer, using the example of her 13-year-old daughter who has just received the vaccine.

“I don’t want her getting cervical cancer,” she said. “I was driven all along by the fact that at the beginning I thought I was going to die. I don’t think that’s the case now, I hope not anyway, definitely not for another while.”

Incorrectly read smear

Ms Phelan settled a case against Clinical Laboratories Inc earlier this year over an incorrectly read smear test which was taken three years before she was eventually diagnosed with cervical cancer, and six years before she was told her smear had been reviewed.

She spoke at WIT of the importance of education and of people having the ability and confidence to challenge what they are told by people such as medical professionals.

“What I was offered in January was palliative chemotherapy... The palliative chemotherapy is killing people, it’s so toxic.”

She instead researched other possibilities and found the new drug, Pembrolizumab, which she started against much medical advice, in April.

“If I had taken that advice in January, I’ve no doubt I’d be either dead now or on the way out. I was given six months if I didn’t get their treatment.

“I got on it [Pembrolizumab] just in time. The palliative chemotherapy would have only bought me until the end of the year, which is now coming up, and I would have been sick.”