herald

Sunday 22 July 2018

'Victims of smear test crisis are stronger together', says Vicky

Vicky Phelan with her husband Jim and children
Vicky Phelan with her husband Jim and children

Vicky Phelan is encouraging women and families affected by the CervicalCheck debacle to come forward.

The terminally-ill mum-of-two (43) was the first to go public over the HSE smear test errors.

She said she has been approached by other women whose smear tests were incorrectly assessed and that she is helping them, and their families, as best she can with support and advice.

Her appeal for other victims to come forward comes after Emma Mhic Mhathuna last week laid bare her terminal cancer diagnosis.

The families of Irene Teap, Catherine Reck and Julie Dignivan - three of the 17 women who have died in the smear test scandal - have also told their stories.

Support

"I would encourage others to come forward and bring their own experiences into the spotlight," said Vicky, from Annacotty, Co Limerick.

"This is not about numbers, it is about people and their families, and the more that is known the better."

Vicky is considering meeting other victims and their families to form a support and campaign group.

"I was in touch with Emma Mhic Mhathuna after I heard her on the radio," Vicky told the Herald. "I just wanted to reach out to her. I knew about my diagnosis before going public, but she learned of hers in the middle of a national storm on the issue so I feel for her.

"I wanted to give her information on a treatment that I feel has helped me.

"I want to give women hope, and I will help in any way I can," added Vicky.

"For the treatment I am getting, you first have to get a test done to see if your tumour will respond to it. In my case, it did.

"The treatment is working. Before I got it, I was getting tired and starting to feel that maybe the diagnosis I had always refused to believe could be true. I was going downhill.

"But since starting the new treatment, I feel almost 100pc."

Vicky said she has also spoken with Irene Teap's husband, Stephen.

Mum-of-two Irene died last year, not knowing of the smear test scandal that was about to unfold.

Problems

Vicky said meeting other women affected by the scandal has its difficulties.

"There are women on different treatments in different places at different times, so that presents problems," she said.

"However, I do see how a group of people could have strengths that are greater than the individuals in it."

Vicky's call for others to go public with their stories comes after the daughter of a woman who died in April 2012 came forward with her story.

Dublin mother Catherine Reck (48) had a smear test in November 2010.

It was assessed as having low grade abnormalities. In fact, the smear should have instantly rang alarm bells and led to treatment.

Her daughter, Grace Rattigan, said her mother's clinician received a letter from CervicalCheck in 2015. It said that test discrepancies had been discovered, but the family was not told of this until last week.

"If people did not speak out, this would be swept under the carpet. This would be about numbers. People speaking out is putting names to these numbers. It's putting faces to the 17 women and their families and what has been done to them," she said.

Catherine suffered bleeding and went to her doctor in April 2011. She was referred for a colposcopy but was not called for it until August that year. By that stage she was told she more than likely had cancer.

Her treatment did not start until October 2011. Catherine died the following April.

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