Vicky Phelan: Palliative chemotherapy would have only bought me until the end of the year

By Conor Kane

Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan has said she believes she would now be dead or close to death had she taken medical advice to undergo palliative chemotherapy rather than carrying out her own research into new treatment.

Ms Phelan said that her treatment with “wonder drug” Pembrolizumab has resulted in another small shrinkage in her cervical cancer tumours, following shrinkage of over 50% after she started the therapy.

“It’s quite minimal but it’s what you want to see,” she said at Waterford Institute of Technology, where she was conferred with an honorary fellowship.

Ms Phelan, who lives in Limerick with her husband and children, is employed as the head of the Literacy Development Centre at WIT.

“I’m happy enough to live with tumours, as long as they’re not growing. I have a quality of life.”

Ms Phelan also spoke of the importance of the HPV vaccine for preventing a range of cancers, including cervical cancer, using the example of her 13-year-old daughter who has just been given the vaccine.

“I don’t want her getting cervical cancer,” she said. “I was driven all along by the fact that, at the beginning, I thought I was going to die. I don’t think that’s the case now, I hope not anyway, definitely not for another while.”

Ms Phelan settled a case against Clinical Pathology Laboratories earlier this year over an incorrectly read smear test which was taken three years before she was eventually diagnosed with cervical cancer, and six years before she was told her smear had been reviewed.

She told the WIT event yesterday of the importance of education and of people having the ability and confidence to challenge what they are told by people such as medical professionals.

“What I was offered in January was palliative chemotherapy… The palliative chemotherapy is killing people, it’s so toxic.”

She instead researched other possibilities and found the new drug, Pembrolizumab, which she started, against much medical advice, in April.

“If I had taken that advice in January, I’ve no doubt I’d be either dead now or on the way out. I got on it [Pembrolizumab] just in time. The palliative chemotherapy would have only bought me until the end of the year, which is now coming up, and I would have been sick.

“I have spoken to women who are on this treatment and they are in and out of hospital all the time, with infection after infection. It’s not curing anybody, it’s making you sick, it’s depleting your immune system, and it’s not buying you time. And this is all they can offer, I don’t believe that is right.”

Ms Phelan said she wants all possible patients who could benefit from the same drug to be given a test which shows if they are suitable for it or not, and then to have the treatment funded by the Government.

Ms Phelan is now funding a research position which will have somebody working for patients from the main cancer hospitals, to look into possible treatment options for those patients.

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