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'Words like battler and fighter put pressure on cancer patients' - Vicky


Cancer patient and campaigner Vicky Phelan

Cancer patient and campaigner Vicky Phelan

Cancer patient and campaigner Vicky Phelan

Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan has warned that descriptions such as "warrior", "battler" and "fighter" can increase the pressure on patients who are vulnerable and scared.

Ms Phelan, whose campaigning led to the CervicalCheck Screening Programme inquiry, said such phrases can carry unintended consequences.

The 46-year-old mother-of-two from Annacotty, Co Limerick, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014.

Last week, former Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding (38) shared her breast cancer diag- nosis on social media and sparked an outpouring of support from fans across the world.

Ms Phelan said people often do not know what to say to someone diagnosed with cancer and opt for "fighter" or "battler".

"I think in Ireland we're very poor at sympathising with people or being honest," she told NewsTalk.


Former Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding shared her breast cancer diagnosis

Former Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding shared her breast cancer diagnosis

Former Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding shared her breast cancer diagnosis

"I would prefer if people said to me when I was diagnosed first, 'Jesus, Vicky, this is shit. I am so sorry that you have got this diagnosis'.

"Ask me about my treatment, but don't say to me, 'Oh, you're going to beat this'.

"Just because somebody dies from cancer, maybe after six months or a year, does it mean they didn't fight it as well as anybody else?"

Ms Phelan said it is unfair on the person living with cancer or on the family left behind to use such weighted terminology.

"I've had this conversation with people when they're saying, 'Do people think she didn't fight hard enough?' There's an element of that.

"This is a shit situation. You've got cancer and nobody knows what will happen at the end of the day.


"Some people get diagnosed at a very early stage and still die from cancer, so it's a lottery, and even for me to still be alive today, I've seen so many women die from this disease over the last number of years.

"That's why I get upset about this type of language, because any of the women I know who died from this disease fought bloody hard until the end."

Ms Phelan said revolutionary treatments are allowing people such as her to live longer with cancer.

"I'm living with this disease and that's what I always say. I say I'm living with cancer, I don't say I'm fighting it, because you can't fight it.

"You've got this disease in your body and you have to learn to live with it somehow."

Ms Phelan was given the all-clear after prolonged and intense treatment.

However, she was informed three years ago that an audit carried out by CervicalCheck found her 2011 smear test had been reported as a false nega- tive.

Within weeks, a CT scan revealed the cancer had returned.

Her subsequent diagnosis was terminal.

She went public with what had happened, and her efforts sparked a debate on the treatment and care of cancer pat-ients in Ireland.

Singer Harding revealed that while she was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, it has since spread to other parts of her body.

Specialists in England believe her diagnosis could lead to an increase in patients presenting to GPs to for testing.

A similar uptake followed when singer Kylie Minogue went public with her breast cancer diagnosis in 2005, and when the late reality TV star Jade Goody learned of her cervical cancer diagnosis while taking part in the Indian version of Big brother in 2008.

Breast cancer affects more than 3,000 women and around 25 men each year in Ireland.

Information on support services can be obtained on the Irish Cancer Society website, cancer.ie