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Wednesday 26 June 2019

‘People said horrendous things about me’ – New documentary about Laura Brennan

The late Laura Brennan
The late Laura Brennan

Markus Krug

The late HPV vaccine campaigner Laura Brennan told of how she was targeted with "horrendous" abuse as she actively encouraged young women to take the vaccine.

Laura, who was from Co Clare, was just 26 when she passed away from cervical cancer last March.

Champion: Laura Brennan campaigned for HPV vaccine. Picture: Fennells
Champion: Laura Brennan campaigned for HPV vaccine. Picture: Fennells

A new one-off RTÉ documentary entitled 'Laura Brennan - This Is Me' features the young woman discussing some of the negative comments she received about her campaigning in the months before her death.

She was diagnosed with the disease in December 2016, and came to public prominence when she appeared on the Late Late Show.

She actively campaigned for young women to take the vaccine - after her death, the HSE said her work and activism in highlighting the vaccine led to a huge surge in young women taking it.

When she first contacted the HSE in 2017, uptake amongst young women stood at 51pc.

By March, that figure had increased to 70pc.

While her impact was hugely positive, the young woman was the subject of some online abuse.

Laura Brennan on The Late Late Show
Laura Brennan on The Late Late Show

She said that online comments against her and her campaign to promote the HPV vaccine were especially harsh because of her young age.

“People have said horrendous things about me for having such a strong voice," she says in the documentary.

"If you are passing comments like that you are ignorant to what is actually going on and you don’t understand it.”

In the comments and calls she received, a number of people called her “brainwashed”, said her illness “deserved” and told her she did “not have a clue what she’s supporting”.

She also mentioned the most extreme side of the backlash: “I have had friends who received death threats.”

Despite the negativity from some parts of the public, Ms Brennan kept a remarkably positive outlook throughout the months before her passing..

“Cancer can change your body in a lot of ways, and it can change your thinking in a lot of ways. But it was never going to change who I am.”

She added: “I was born with a voice and now I am using that voice to try and do some good with it.”

In September 2017, she was told her cancer was incurable, leading Laura to decide to focus on the present and not dwell too much on the future.

 “I don’t look at time and I’m not counting down the hours or the days.

"There is no reason why I should feel like ‘oh my time is running out’ and I don’t have a bucket list'.

"Cancer showed me who wanted to be in my life. It really taught me who my real friends are," she said.

The documentary follows the final chapters of Laura's life in the months before her death.

In contrast to some of the negative comments that her activism received there was also a huge show of gratefulness and solidarity.

After her death, and under the hashtag #ThankYouLaura, many people took the chance to thank her for her work “to protect the next generation” and “changing minds and possibly saving lives in the future.”

“Her reference will save the lives of so many other girls and women in our country. She will help us reach our goal of eradicating cervical cancer in Ireland. Thank you Laura,” said another video message.

The Brennan family said Laura was "a light in the life of everyone who knew her; a wonderful daughter, sister and friend. We are lost without her."

The family praised 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.

Health Minister Simon Harris paid tribute to Ms Brennan, saying "the State owes her a debt of gratitude".

And the HSE said: "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 Brennan - This Is Me' airs exclusively on the RTÉ Player from today

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