Sunday 21 April 2019

'Laura was a light in the life of everyone who knew her' - HPV vaccine advocate Laura Brennan (26) has died

Laura Brennan on The Late Late Show
Laura Brennan on The Late Late Show
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Cervical cancer screening advocate Laura Brennan has passed away at the age of 26.

The young Clare woman was diagnosed with cervical cancer stage 2B at just 24.

She was an outspoken advocate in favour of the HPV Vaccine and spoke out recently on the Late Late Show.

A statement released from her family read: "Laura was a light in the life of everyone who knew her; a wonderful daughter, sister and friend.  We are lost without her."

9/10/2017 Laura Brennan(25), Hillview, Clarecastle, Co Clare with Bailey.
Photograph Liam Burke Press 22
9/10/2017 Laura Brennan(25), Hillview, Clarecastle, Co Clare with Bailey. Photograph Liam Burke Press 22
Laura Brennan has been diagnosed with terminal cancer

"We are all incredibly proud of the work she did in the last 18 months to help protect other young women like herself from the cancer that has taken her life today.

"Laura used her voice, her generosity and her energy to help parents to make informed choices and protect their daughters from cervical cancer. 

"She wanted to make a difference, and use the time that she had to right what she felt was a great wrong.

The family have asked for their privacy to be respected at this sad time.

Campaigner Vicky Phelan said that had "no words".

"I am only now finding out about Laura's death. I have no words, just tears and emptiness at the loss of another young woman who used what was left of her time to campaign so that others would NOT suffer her fate. Please, please vaccinate your children," she wrote on Twitter.

Laura previously spoke of the devastating impact of the illness.

"This illness is devastating and it’s going to take my life but the good news is there’s a vaccine that you can get that prevents it. HPV caused my cancer. I just wanted parents to know there is an alternative," she said.

Since Laura contacted the HSE in 2017, uptake of the HPV vaccine has increased almost 20 percentage points, from 51pc in 2017 to 70pc today.

Laura also had a inspirational effect when she appeared on the Late Late Show.

Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy said "Laura Brennan was one of those extraordinary people who shine brightly and make friends easily with whoever they meet by sheer force of personality and natural kindness.

"She had these traits in abundance. I met her a number of times and walked away utterly taken aback by her verve and commitment to help people throughout her campaigning.

"The world will be quieter and sadder without her. My thoughts are with her family for whom a bright light was cruelly prevented from shining but her legacy will not be forgotten."

Claire Byrne tweeted: "Laura Brennan’s bravery and dignity in the face of her devastating illness was inspiring. When she appeared on our programme, she was so mindful of the impact of her campaign on her family and I think that was the remarkable thing about her, she always thought of others before herself. My thoughts are with her family, Laura’s death is such a sad loss but I hope they take comfort in her huge achievements and the impact she had on people all over the country and beyond."

Laura said last year that she believed many women were afraid in the wake of the CervicalCheck controversy, and doesn't want to see anyone risking their future by not going for tests.

She began working alongside the HSE’s HPV Vaccine campaign, launching an online video campaign. In the video, published just last week, Laura said: "I wish the vaccine had been available to me, of course I do. Don't get swayed by rumours about the vaccine's safety - get the vaccine."

She was honoured at many events over the last year, receiving the inaugural Patient Advocate Medal from the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, and most recently being named Clare Person of the Year. She was conferred with an honorary doctorate by UCD in acknowledgment of her advocacy work.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) invited Laura to extend her advocacy of the vaccine across Europe, and she has visited the WHO’s European headquarters in Copenhagen to discuss her advocacy of the vaccine.

Minister for Health Simon Harris paid tribute to Laura Brennan saying he was "deeply saddened to learn of Laura's passing."

"Laura was an incredible young woman and a powerful campaigner. Despite her illness, she continued her advocacy and thanks in no small part to her sheer determination, the uptake of the HPV vaccine has increased among young women. The State owes her a debt of gratitude."

He said: "As a person, she was kind, funny and full of life. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Every time I met Laura or spoke with her, I was inspired by her. Amazing doesn’t do justice to her or her courage. I want to extend my deepest condolences to her family and friends."

Chief Executive of the Irish Cancer Society, Averil Power said she wished to extend deepest sympathies to the Brennan family on behalf of the organisation.

"In the past year Laura showed tremendous strength and bravery in talking about her cervical cancer. Her selfless honesty inspired us all. Through her steadfast determination she influenced parents to make an informed decision to give their daughters the HPV vaccine and protect them against an illness which was to take her life," she said.

"Laura’s legacy is already clear. In many homes across the country, parents will have her to thank for saving their daughters’ lives.

"Through vaccination and the best possible screening programme for women, Ireland can potentially eliminate cervical cancer within a generation. In memory of Laura and her tireless work, we must work towards this goal with more determination than ever."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that "Laura was incredibly generous with her time, even when she knew it was limited".

"Cervical cancer took Laura’s life but her powerful advocacy will save many lives. Her bravery was matched by her determination to prevent others from getting this terrible disease.

"Our thoughts and sympathies go to Laura's family and friends."

President Higgins said that he was "greatly saddened".

"Laura impressed so very many with her campaigning and her work as a patient advocate has had a real and positive effect on countless young women across the country," he said. "On behalf of the people of Ireland, I send my condolences to her family and friends, and to all those who have shared Ms. Brennan’s journey."

Anne O’Connor, Interim HSE Director General, also expressed her sincere condolences to the family and friends of Laura Brennan.

"Laura has contributed enormous time and energy campaigning to support HPV vaccination and preventing cervical cancer since March 2018," she said.

Speaking on behalf of the HSE’s Leadership Team and all HSE staff, she said: "We are all deeply saddened to learn of Laura’s death, and we feel immense gratitude and admiration for her and her family.  Laura has defined courage and generosity as she supported our work to ensure girls get the HPV vaccine, and are protected from this terrible cancer."

"Laura came forward when she was first diagnosed with terminal cancer and our mission became hers. We know that Laura has made a difference, and will have saved lives through her great effort and her tremendous generosity of spirit."

Paul Connors, HSE National Director of Communications, said: "Laura, her parents and brothers have given everyone in Ireland a remarkable gift. At a moment when her time was most precious, she chose to stand in the public eye and tell her story, in order to help others.

"She has reached many thousands of families, through her remarkable videos as part of our advertising campaign, by telling her story in the media on television, radio, print and online, and by speaking at events all over the country.

"Laura’s message has also spread outside Ireland; she was invited by the World Health Organisation to Copenhagen, to prepare for an EU-wide campaign that was launched recently, and she also addressed a cervical cancer event in Boston in 2018.

"Laura’s personal story, her leadership and her warm and vivacious personality provided many parents in Ireland with the understanding they needed to protect their daughters with the HPV vaccine. Uptake rates have risen dramatically, and we know they will increase further, saving many lives, thanks to Laura, and Laura’s family."

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