Stephen Teap found himself a grieving single dad to two small boys, holding down his job with Volvo, all while being caught up in the highly public eye of the CervicalCheck storm, when his wife Irene died of cervical cancer following two misread smear tests that could have saved her life.
Two years on, he’s still combining patient advocacy work representing the 221+ support group for families affected by the cervical screening failure debacle with his day-job; there were 58 recommendations made in a report into the CervicalCheck scandal and he intends to continue working until all recommendations are implemented. Stephen is September’s Cork Person of the Month; he lives in Carrigaline with his boys Oscar, 6, and Noah, 4.
“The Person of the Month award is a big honour. When you’re involved in this campaign you get tunnel vision when it comes to what you’ve achieved. Every now and then people come up and say, ‘well done, keep going.’ An award like this is definitely recognition for the work of the past 16 months.
“The boys are six and four now. It’s a complete and utter juggling act. I try to keep a bit of structure for them: breakfast and school each morning and then home for dinner in the evenings and trying to squeeze in as much as possible in between, and in the evenings after they’ve gone to bed.
“I’d be very mindful of the environment; we do the recycling at home and with lunchboxes and drinks I try not to buy things that aren’t recyclable at least. But I think shopping for a family, regardless of whether you’re a single parent, is very difficult because of how the supermarkets carry on with things like packaging. When you’re under time pressure and you’re dealing with fussy eaters and stuff like that, you’re not dealing with an ideal world. It would be great if I had the time to go and do shopping in the local farmers’ markets, but I just don’t have that flexibility right now.
“Irene had more of a say and I followed more orders when it came to a lot of the household stuff, but when it came to the food shopping, we always did that together.
“In the weeks after Irene died, for the first couple of months the easiest thing was to do food shopping online. The boys were four and two and there was enough with keeping things stable for them and trying to get your own head around everything. It was a nightmare, and there wasn’t time for anything other than just going for the easiest options.
“I work with Volvo and they’ve done a lot of work on things like microplastics. There’s a lot of focus on electric and hybrid vehicles and we’ve stopped making new diesel vehicles, but the car industry is obviously a big problem. I get to see how the company operates in a lot of different markets and there’s a whole new range of hybrid vehicles ready to go, but unfortunately, they’re just too expensive and the government won’t incentivise people to use them.
“We have to get from A to B: I’m a single parent and I can’t walk both my kids to two different schools, so I need a car, and I need a car for work too. I’d love to be driving an electric car or a hybrid, but it’s not affordable for me right now and that’s where the government need to look at it.
“Check yourself and empower yourself is one of the key messages during Cancer Week. Unfortunately for Irene, she did all that and the system failed her. Everything she did, she did right; she did check herself, she did inform herself. She asked the right questions and was very attentive to her body. That’s why I’ve been trying to fight for change ever since.
“Once all the recommendations are put in place, and when trust is restored in the system and everything is working properly, that’s when I feel I can draw a line under it. When that day is going to come, I’ve no idea, but this is just the legacy I feel I have to put back into it for Irene’s sake.
“I’m definitely more sceptical of the systems in our lives as a whole after this experience, and more inclined to ask questions. I see things repeating themselves in all sorts of different areas; my focus is healthcare, but I look at things happening in Oscar’s school: he’s in the Rochestown Educate Together, and there’s been delay after delay building the new school. It feels like another example of how money is thrown away and how there’s a failure to prioritise people’s needs.
“At this point in time, I have zero confidence that the same kinds of things aren’t happening when it comes to the environment.
“We watched the Plastic Ocean documentary on Netflix and myself and Oscar talked about it; these are things he was learning for the first time. There seems to be zero focus on educating them in the schools. The teenagers have been out on Climate Strikes, but children my kids’ age need to be started off with the importance of the environment too, from a very early age. It’s up to every individual school and there’s no direction from the top down.
“What I’ve learned is that government just react to the current mood; it’s, here’s the budget now, here’s a few quick things we did, hopefully that will quieten people down now for the next four years. No one is thinking about 40 years.
“How can you be optimistic about your kids’ future when you know the direction the environment is going in? If you were, you’d have to be ignoring all the problems. I’m not optimistic about the future, and I’m not going to start making up lies. I don’t talk to them about it, beyond what we can do and little changes we can make. They’re six and four. Thankfully I don’t need to go into much detail on it with them at the moment.
“We spend a lot of time outside and they have a good appreciation of the outdoors. We do a lot of camping and stuff like that, and they see the beauty that’s out there, but at the moment, they’re too young to appreciate it: they’re just experiencing it all.”