'I had to grow up quickly' - Vicky Phelan on losing boyfriend and two friends in crash
Vicky Phelan has opened up about losing her boyfriend and two friends in a car crash which left her with severe injuries, leading her to question the Irish medical system.
The cervical cancer campaigner from Limerick, who is being treated with wonder drug Pembro, has revealed the tragedy she endured on a trip to France when she was just 19 gave her inner strength.
"I'd had a really bad car accident in 1994. It was the first big thing that happened in my life that made me realise I'm not invincible and life is not fair," Ms Phelan said.
"These thing either make you or break you. I had to grow up very quickly.
"I lost three friends. I was in hospital nearly four months, I broke 70pc of the bones in the left hand side of my body, I had to do a lot of rehab. It shapes you, you see the fragility of life, I was only 19."
The campaigner, who was transferred from a French hospital back to Ireland, praised the French health system but noticed problems as she returned to Ireland.
French specialists had taken up to half an hour each to explain the treatment she'd received and a future care plan for her return home. Most notably she'd been advised specifically not to sit up for two weeks or "I would damage my pelvis". But on her return, Ms Phelan claims she was told the opposite by an orthopaedic surgeon.
"It was the first time I challenged the medical profession after my car crash," she said.
"He [the surgeon] looked at my files and said, 'We'll have a physio and have you out of that bed tomorrow.'
"I said, 'no, you won't.' I said, 'Excuse me, I'm going to go with the doctor who did the procedure in France. He said I was not to sit up for weeks.'
"[The surgeon] turned on his heel and marched out of the ward. The [ward] sister came back and had a go at me. I said, 'Hang on, this is my body, I'm not a child and I can speak for myself.'"
Ms Phelan remained in hospital for three months, apparently at odds with the surgeon
"I'd lost three of my friends, including my boyfriend and I had all these injuries and all he could see was I had an attitude problem," she said. "But I stuck to my guns. That was my first foray into standing up for myself against an authority figure. I think he thought I'd be an easy walkover."
Ms Phelan, who spoke to the 'Love and Courage' podcast with its presenter Ruairí McKiernan, added despite her terminal diagnosis: "The reality is I'm time limited unless a drug comes to cure me.
"It's about making memories, living my life, even mending bridges, not taking small stuff seriously - there's a great freedom in that.
"If people embrace life more and stop worrying about the small s**t, they'd be so much happier."