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Doonbeg a place of sanctuary for Vicky Phelan

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*Vicky Phelan on Doughmore Beach. 

During a recent visit to Doonbeg, cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan revealed how Co Clare has been an important sanctuary for her amid intensive campaigning while undergoing continued treatment.

It was in her twenties that Vicky admitted she first fell in love with the Banner County while paying a trip to Doughmore Beach in Doonbeg. “I remember the first time I stepped onto that beach. It just took my breath away. It’s my favourite place in the world.”

Speaking on the Love and Courage podcast with Lahinch based writer, Ruairí McKiernan, the Limerick woman recalled recalled a car accident at the age of 19 in which three of her friends died, including her boyfriend at the time. The accident, which occurred during a student exchange in France, left her in facing a difficult period of rehabilitation in hospital after breaking 70% of the bones on the left-hand side of her body.

“People often ask me when they meet me ‘how are you doing what you are doing? How can you keep campaigning, and be so positive?’ but you see before all of this I’ve had so many things before that happened, like the accident that helped me realise that I’m not invincible and life is not fair. These things, they either make you or break you. I had to grow up very fast. It shapes you, something like that. You see the fragility of life.”

On her return to Ireland, Vicky challenged an orthopaedic surgeon in what she maintained was her first time standing up for herself against an authority figure. “He wrote in my report that I had an attitude problem. I lost three of my friends, including my boyfriend, and I had all these injuries and all he could say was that I had an attitude problem. That was my first foray into standing up for myself against an authority figure.”

Years later Vicky’s daughter Amelia was born with a congenital disorder. This left her with a visual impairment and scaring on the brain later resulting in epileptic seizures. “For the first two years of her life, I was up and down to Crumlin every six weeks. I was in the local hospital in Waterford three times a week. Not what you want for your first baby. That was the first time in my life I experienced depression.”

While Vicky says the support her daughter receives for ongoing medical problems is generally very good, she says having to advocate for her over the past 13 years has given her the tools she has needed to be able to campaign for the hundreds of patients and families affected by the Cervical Check scandal. “I’ve been doing this for years. I don’t see it as any different to what I’ve been doing all my life, it’s just on a bigger scale.”

She does become angry on the issue of cover-ups regarding the Cervical Check scandal but prefers to channel such feelings. “I’ve been down that road of being angry and I know where that goes. It goes into depression so I have to not go there. I have to channel it. That’s why I took the court case. When I realised there were other women that’s what made me fight that this went public. I found it cathartic to be able to talk about it.”

“This isn’t about me. It’s about everybody, standing up and taking responsibility for your health, asking questions and advocating for a better healthcare system. We all have the responsibility to do that”.

Although she is relatively well at the moment and is undergoing a range of treatments, Vicky feels her time is limited. “I might have 12 months, 24 months. If I get 2 years I’ll be delighted. You have to take things one day at a time. I am going to live my life for as long as I can, as well as I can.”

Newmarket-on-Fergus native, Páraic McMahon is a freelance journalist and broadcaster currently working for numerous national and local publications including The Clare Echo, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent, The Irish Times, RTÉ, TheJournal.ie, The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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