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‘Gamechanger’ Vicky Phelan honoured at Mum of the Year Awards

Vicky Phelan has been honoured for her efforts in helping those affected by the CervicalCheck scandal.

The terminally ill mother-of-two received a “Gamechanger Ambassador Award” at the Woman’s Way Mum of the Year Awards in Dublin yesterday.

Publisher, Norah Casey, said Vicky was “an incredibly courageous woman who discovered a travesty of epic proportions.”

As well as facing her own challenges Vicky had become a voice for women everywhere.

“I think she changed society enormously in Ireland,” she said.

Vicky was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 having previously been given a false negative from a smear test.

She arrived at the event, held in the Gibson Hotel in Dublin with her mum, Gaby Kelly, and said it was a “lovely treat” for the two of them.

Last month Vicky’s oncologist said that a drug called pembrolizumab had shrunk her tumour.

“I am feeling great. I don’t look like someone who is on the way out at this stage,” she said.

[quote]“The drug is working. I have had over 50% shrinkage in my tumour. So it is great.”[/quote]

“Fingers crossed — long may it last. If it is giving other people hope, that is what I want.”

Vicky got pembrolizumab — a drug used off-licence in cancer immunotherapy.

She fundraised to pay for the drug and got her oncologist to sign off on it for her. However, the hospital expressed fears about her using the drug.

She kept fighting for the drug until she got it and is now trying to encourage other people, particularly those with cervical cancer, to fundraise to pay for the drug.

“They should really go public with their story if they can and put the pressure on. That’s how I got it.”

If a trial is funded in September she believes those who paid for the drug will get the money back.

When she first spoke out after settling her High Court action she thought she was one of 14 women affected but she now thinks there will be hundreds more.

“I am a Scorpio, you know. I don’t like being crossed. It (the scandal) was hidden from me and it was hidden from other women. It just had to come out. But I never thought it would become as big as it has.”

She believes that the number of women affected, that currently stands at 221, could double.

“There are still 1,800 other slides that have to be reviewed. There will have to be at least 100 more, if not 200. When I went public with this I never expected it to be this big.”

Two families affected by the controversy contacted her on Thursday. One of the women was aged 33 and the other 25.

“That is a terrible indictment of health system that they have to contact a terminally ill woman for information and advice on where to go. They have been given no hope and put on palliative chemotherapy. They were not given the option of looking at immunotherapy drugs or clinical trials.”

She said she would consider having a huge fundraising event to help women like her get the drugs they needed. “It could be a kind Live Aid. That’s a good idea — I will think about it.”

Vicky said she wanted to spend more time with her children over the summer but found it hard to pull back from helping other women get the care they needed.

She was glad that the Department of Health had agreed on Thursday to fund an independent patient support group that could deal with the general queries she was receiving.

“I spend three or four hours a day just replying to queries from people. I feel like I have to because they have nowhere else to go but it is a lot of work on top of all the other stuff as well.”

Vicky said that there were other drugs that could keep her alive if Pembrolizumab stopped working.

“You have to have a back-up. I have a backup clinical trial if this drug does not work.”

This story originally appeared in the Irish Examiner