HSE cyberattack ‘stole my end goal’, says cancer patient

Woman (36) due to finish treatment on May 31st but now has ‘no idea’ when she’ll be seen

It is a case of so near and yet so far for PR and marketing executive Donna-Marie Cullen (36), who was in the very last stages of treatment for an aggressive form of brain cancer, due to be completed at the end of May. Then, on Friday morning, the cyber criminals struck.

“Basically they stole my end goal. They’ve taken away the final hurdle of my treatment,” she says.

“I had finished my chemotherapy and I had finished my surgery and the cancer had been removed. However, I was having radiation treatment for microscopic reasons, to make sure that I had no more cancer left. Radiation is obviously the home stretch. It’s my final hurdle after the most horrific year and a half that we’ve ever had. Now I’m on the home stretch of treatment and it’s paused.

“I’ve had 20 sessions of radiation and I’ve about 13 more to go,” she adds. “I can’t go through those 13 sessions until this cyber crime is fixed.”

Already it has meant cancellation of her radiation treatment at St Luke's Hospital in Dublin last Friday, and a further cancellation of treatment she was scheduled to have on Monday.

“St Luke’s phoned me on Friday morning. They told me it was suspended for Friday,” she says. She is following the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group’s Twitter account and “they’ve told us it’s also suspended for Monday”.

Severe cancer

She is “just keeping track of it online”, with “no idea” when her next treatment will be. “I should be finished treatment on May 31st but my treatment now won’t finish until after it’s back up and running,” she says.

Her main concern is that “if there’s anything left behind after treatment it will grow rapidly ... Even though I’m getting a break from treatment now, it could mean I need more cancer treatment because of this.”

The chemotherapy “has to be done fast due to the severity of the cancer so that if there is anything left behind it can grow rapidly”.

As she speaks over her phone, her son Max – "a year and nine months" old – can be heard trying to gain her attention in the background at the Lucan home they share with her partner, Colin, and their other son, Seán (11).

“It’s a situation that’s out of your hands. You have to almost say, look, I can’t control this, I have to let it go,” she says.

She has nothing but praise for the medical staff and hospitals who have dealt with her since her diagnosis in September 2019, and through the Covid restrictions.

“The speed of St James’s has been incredible ... The system has failed a lot of people but in my case it hasn’t. Oncology has saved my life.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times