Tuesday 14 August 2018

Brave Vicky starts on new cancer wonder drug

Vicky Phelan is in legal and health battles. Photo: Courtpix
Vicky Phelan is in legal and health battles. Photo: Courtpix

Lynne Kelleher

A young mother with terminal cancer who has taken a High Court action over incorrect smear test results became the first cervical patient in Ireland to get a breakthrough immunotherapy this week.

Alongside the court case, Vicky Phelan has spent the last two months fighting through medical red tape to get access to the drug which she is hoping will prolong her life.

The High Court heard last week that she was given the all-clear after a cervical check smear test was carried out in 2011, and it wasn't until another smear test in 2014 that she was diagnosed with cancer.

But it was claimed in court that she only discovered last year that a review of the earlier test in May 2011 was carried after her diagnosis in 2014. It was claimed she was not told this was done until three years later, in September 2017, or told that the 2011 test was incorrect and it had showed suspected cancerous cells.

Two months later, in November 2017, the 43-year-old mother-of-two was told she had incurable stage four cancer. Earlier this week, before her court appearance, she had her first dose of the drug Pembrolizumab - among a new wave of drugs hailed as the biggest breakthrough in cancer treatment since the discovery of chemotherapy in the 1940s, which work by stimulating the body's immune system to fight cancer cells.

Nearly €200,000 raised through her GoFundMe page is paying for the treatment which was the only way she was granted access to the expensive drug which is only licensed for a small number of cancers in Ireland.

"After 10 weeks of campaigning and fighting and lots of blood, sweat and tears shed along the way, I am having my first infusion of Pembrolizumab, a drug that is not yet licensed for my cancer," she said.

"Thanks to all the donations from my fundraising campaign, I have enough funds to pay for this drug, which is going to cost me €8,500 every three weeks.

"I am the first cervical cancer patient in Ireland to get access to this drug.

"I believe a sustained campaign of bombarding my oncologist, St Vincent's accounts department and getting my local TD, Kieran O'Donnell, and my solicitor to make calls, got me access in the end."

Sunday Independent

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