Julie Dingivan, 36, of Fermoy, died in a hospice. She left behind her “beloved” husband and “best friend” Paul, as well as her two children and stepdaughter.
Julie went for a smear test in 2009, which she was told was clear. In 2013, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and began treatment. Despite periods of reprieve, Julie passed away in Marymount Hospice in April last year.
An audit of the CervicalCheck screening programme found that 209 women, who would later be diagnosed with cervical cancer, were originally given an incorrect all-clear result following a smear test. Of these, 162 were not told about the audit results and 17 died after the review found they were mistakenly given the all-clear for cancer.
Two weeks ago, Mr Dingivan found out that his wife was one of the 17 women.
He said he is speaking out now, firstly because it is what his late wife would have wanted, and secondly, because it puts a “face” to the figures.
“She would have wanted people to hear this,” he said.
“We all said that, knowing Julie, if she had heard of this she would have wanted her story out there. In a hospital, you’re just a number on a file, but now people can see the faces behind all these women’s stories like Julie’s.”
Paul Reck, husband to the late Catherine Reck, 48, also broke his silence.
Catherine had a smear test in November 2010. She was told that only low-grade cell abnormalities had been detected. Some time later, Catherine visited her GP after she experienced irregular bleeding and underwent a colposcopy in August 2011.
A biopsy revealed she had stage-three cervical cancer. Catherine was dead eight months later, passing away in April 2012, leaving behind her husband and three young children.
Mr Reck found out 11 days ago that his late wife was one of the 209 women caught up in the scandal.
Catherine’s family went public with this information, following in the footsteps of Vicky Phelan and Emma Mhic Mhathúna, revealing their cancer diagnoses after incorrect smear tests.
Mr Reck said had his wife’s “high abnormalities” been picked up in her 2010 smear test, she would have received treatment “urgently”.
“Every aspect of it was wrong, morally, ethically, and medically. They knew if they had told us it would have been a scandal, it was a cover-up,” he said.
Tony O’Brien, director of the HSE, has since stepped down, but Mr Reck said his family still wants “accountability”.
“I want to know why it happened. I want to know who knew. I want to know why we weren’t told. I want people held to account,” he said.
“There won’t be closure, but we want accountability.”
Mr Reck described the “pure anger” he felt when he learned of his wife’s incorrect reading.
Aside from having to reveal his late wife’s medical history in great detail, Mr Reck has gone public about his correspondence with Tallaght Hospital, where his wife had her colposcopy in August 2011.
Grace Rattigan, Catherine’s daughter, also spoke out, posting her family’s personal grief to Facebook. She described her loss as being “robbed”.
“Every milestone we have passed without her through cloudy eyes and heavy hearts now feels like an extension of this sense of being robbed,” said Ms Rattigan.
“To learn this could have potentially been avoided, it now feels like Catherine’s life and her positive impact on our lives was stolen.”
While these families have been dealing privately with their loss, as every family normally does, they have been forced to lay their grief out in public in an attempt to get some answers.
Last night, a candlelit vigil was held at Cork City Hall in solidarity with the women caught up in the cervical smear scandal.
“Mothers are the foundations of humanity and they deserve better,” said Conor Slattery, organiser of the vigil.
A father of three, he said his own wife, who is not one of the 209 women, will now get a new smear test done, outside of the normal three-year test cycle.
“I would suspect any husband in the country is terrified. I would suspect any woman in this country is terrified,” said Mr Slattery.
Candles were lit as the sun set last night and quenched at dusk, to bring “some light” to this dark issue.