Thursday 23 May 2019

Watch: 'A dream come true' - Vicky Phelan fights back tears as she receives doctorate

Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan admitted she was
Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan admitted she was "overwhelmed" to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Limerick. Photo: Mark Condren

Ralph Riegel

Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan admitted she was "overwhelmed" to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Limerick (UL).

The mother-of-two fought back tears as she was given a standing ovation when she received the highest honour that her alma mater can offer.

She received the award proudly watched by her husband, Jim, and children Amelia (12) and Darragh (7).

Stephen Teap - who lost his wife after a cervical cancer false negative - attended the UL ceremony to support Vicky and the Phelan family with whom he has become very friendly.

The UL graduate and former university employee helped highlight the cervical cancer test scandal earlier this year when she refused to sign a non-disclosure settlement after her smear tests incorrectly gave a negative reading seven years ago.

She was diagnosed with cancer three years later.

Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan admitted she was
Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan admitted she was "overwhelmed" to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Limerick. Photo: Mark Condren

Vicky revealed she was now considering using some of her fundraising to support a position in an oncology centre "to shame the Government" into doing more for women given terminal cancer diagnosis.

She wants women to be given access to the latest revolutionary treatments rather than be consigned to palliative care.

Vicky is now on a revolutionary treatment for her terminal cancer - and revealed she feels "100pc fine - far better than I was six weeks ago."

"If I wasn't on this treatment, I don't know if I would still be here. But I had to research this treatment myself, make a nuisance of myself in demanding it and finally shaming them into allowing me to receive it."

"But why aren't other women in my position receiving the same treatment if it can be as successful as in my case?"

Vicky fought back tears as she spoke of how the honorary doctorate represented "a dream come true."

"My mother always joked that I was an eternal student - I have two Masters degrees. I started a PhD but wasn't able to complete it. So this means so much to me."

'It is a great honour for me and one that I am delighted to accept."

"I loved my time as a student in UL and that is where I began my professional career."

"I never anticipated then that I would be presented with an honorary doctorate by the university."

The honorary doctorate was presented to Vicky by UL President Dr Des Fitzgerald.

The citation was read by Vicky's long-standing friend, Dr Mairead Moriarty.

More than 200 people packed into the UL auditorium to applaud the Limerick mother as the doctorate was presented.

The ceremony was so oversubscribed that several hundred students and supporters gathered outside in the sunshine to watch a live stream of the event.

In her award citation, Vicky was hailed for her courage, inspiration and dedication to helping other women - embodying all the values that UL cherishes.

"In her steadfast refusal to be silenced, Vicky Phelan has surrendered her anonymity and has become a national voice for the voiceless," Dr Moriarty read.

"In doing so, she has given immeasurable service to this country."

"Faced with a personal tragedy of this magnitude it would have been understandable for Vicky to withdraw and focus on her own needs."

"Instead, when she realised that what had happened to her was likely to have happened to others, she took the decision to make public her experience and expose the screening programme and the healthcare system to much needed examination, something which is ongoing."

"She has oven up so much for the women of Ireland, empowering them to demand the truth."

"Alongside the substantial undertaking of holding a national health service to account, Vicky has concurrently investigated available treatments and has participated in clinical trials."

"By doing so, Vicky is encouraging women to take control of their own health."

"In her words and in her actions, she cultivates a legacy of patient empowerment."

The citation hailed Vicky for her remarkable courage and determination.

"Hers are truly exceptional achievements."

"The UL community is humbled by Vicky's accomplishments, inspired by her example and proud to call her one of our own."

"It is a great honour for the university that Vicky accepts this honorary doctorate - the highest accolade that we can bestow," the citation concluded.

The Annacotty mother was the victim of a false negative test in her cervical smear screening in 2011.

She was diagnosed with cancer three years later in 2014.

Vicky was later given a diagnosis of terminal cancer.

She settled a High Court action against the US laboratory involved for €2.5 million but steadfastly refused to concede a non-disclosure statement.

Vicky then spoke about about what had happened to her - and, in doing so, helped highlight the sheer scale of the cervical screening scandal.

It was revealed that 209 Irish women had incorrect smear test results over recent years.

Of those 209 women, 18 passed away before they learned their smear test results were incorrect.

Memos released last month revealed how senior HSE executives and CervicalCheck staff were fearful in 2016 of the damage likely to be caused to the screening programme if reports about the incorrect smear test results were made public.

The High Court was told that if the cancerous cells had been detected in 2011 she would have undergone a simple procedure and had a 90pc chance of survival.

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