Monday 16 September 2019

'This girl is 32, and she can never have sex' - Vicky Phelan lifts lid on stark reality of cervical cancer

  • Wants to publicise some of the devastating effects of the cancer
  • 'How am I supposed to go and meet somebody when sex is off the table' - woman asked her
Vicky Phelan who received incorrect smear test results in 2011 and was subsequently diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Vicky Phelan who received incorrect smear test results in 2011 and was subsequently diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

CAMPAIGNER Vicky Phelan has said she is determined to publicise some of the little-known but hugely-impactful difficulties of living with cervical cancer.

Speaking on Miriam O’Callaghan’s radio show on Sunday, Ms Phelan spoke about the "taboo subject" of sex after treatment for cervical cancer - and the stark reality that many women are unable to have sex after treatment for the condition.

The 43-year-old mother-of-two spoke of her own experience, and also referred to a 32-year-old woman who was hoping to start a relationship but would have to tell any potential partner that she couldn't have sex.

Ms Phelan revealed that after having a discussion with fellow campaigner Stephen Teap - whose wife Irene died of the disease last year - she had decided to open up about her own sex life when launching support group 221+ earlier this year.

"I felt I needed to talk about the whole ‘sex’ thing. It’s a bit like the taboo subjects that we don’t feel we can talk about,” she said on RTE Radio One.

"When we had the first day of our launch, I spoke first and I said to Stephen, ‘Right, I’m going to go at this full metal jacket and I’m going to talk about sex'.

"He would understand. We had this discussion and he said himself and Irene would have had the same problems when she was going through her treatment and she was only 35 when she died. You can imagine having no sex life in your 30s, I mean you know… Jesus.

"One of the things with cervical cancer, I thought if I could go as graphic as I can about my experience and how it has affected my sex life, it will help the women in my situation to think ‘I’m not on my own’ and hopefully it will scare other people to go into the hospital and have their smears because you don’t want to have this cancer.”

Ms Phelan has said that she only went public to help other women in a similar position.

The Limerick woman was battling advanced cervical cancer when she fought her High Court case against CervicalCheck last April and refused to sign a confidentiality clause.

She only discovered her cancer in 2014 - three years after incorrectly getting the all clear.

She wanted to alert other women with cervical cancer that they may also have received wrong smear test results ,and an internal audit revealing these errors had probably not been disclosed to them.

Her emotionally charged address on the steps the Four Courts set in train a public outcry and demands on CervicalCheck to come clean.

Some 221 women received wrong results, 20 of whom have since died.

Earlier today, the mother-of-two shared a heart-breaking story about the stark reality of some of the problems facing women with cervical cancer.

"This girl came up to me and she was only 32 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She didn’t have a boyfriend or a partner,” she said.

"She got this diagnosis, goes off and has treatment, and the treatment is horrendous. Some women can have a sex life again, in most cases they can’t. This girl can’t have sex again, because they did surgery that shortened her vagina and narrowed her vagina. She’s out now trying to meet somebody and she just broke down.

"I got so upset because, here she is, a beautiful 32-year-old girl, hasn’t got a boyfriend and she said to me, ‘Vicky, how am I supposed to go and meet somebody? How do you have that conversation with a man when sex is off the table?’

"I just don’t think people understand the extent of the damage that this cancer has on your body, on your sense of being a woman even, because that’s taken away from you and you’re hitting early menopause at 30 or 40, it’s horrendous, horrendous.”

Ms Phelan said that many women suffering from the effects of the radiation treatment struggle to talk about their problems having sex.

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