The sun streams in the window as I write. In the flowerbed outside, the sun’s rays fall on a single white anemone. It’s a perfect flower, with white petals and delicate feathery yellow stamens. Vicky was much like this flower; determined and absolutely radiant in the sunshine. She was every inch a lady, and this is possibly why she achieved so much since her diagnosis of cervical cancer in 2014. It became a terminal diagnosis in 2017. The Cervical Check programme had failed her. We know the details. Instead of disappearing from the public eye, Vicky fought with all her might to live, for her family and the women of Ireland. Doing that, she endured horrendous emotional and physical pain. She lived each woman’s story as the enormity of the injustice of a failed system became apparent. She endured ferocious heartbreak.
Vicky writes in her memoir about the conversation she had with Emma Mhic Mhathúna, RIP.
Emma told her about her own terminal diagnosis. “I was rooted to the spot. The tears were streaming down my face. To hear those words coming from another woman, another mother, who was going through the same thing that I went through, broke my heart.”
Many more women’s stories are covered in her book, ‘Overcoming.’ Vicky had a deep understanding and empathy for these women and she reached out to them constantly. She didn’t have to take on that extra burden, but she did - and we’ve all benefited.
When I heard that Vicky had died, I was just about to head off to have my own check-up scans. That was something Vicky would have done so many, many times. For her, there were many scans, numerous blood tests, surgery and recovery, new diagnoses, tears and desperation, travelling for treatment, surgery and recovery again and more treatment, meetings with officials and so many media opportunities. All of them had to take their toll on Vicky.
She had small wins, some hope, a little more time and the cycle went on. Something in all of us wished that Vicky could overcome the odds and live for Jim, her children, Amelia and Darragh and her own family and wonderful friends. We are so lucky to have good health care and excellent diagnostic technologies available to us. Vicky has improved this considerably in the cervical screening area by her dogged search for the information to understand where things had gone horribly wrong for her and the 221+ women she represented.
Her vulnerability, her stamina, her raw honesty and dogged determination inspired us. Her story shocked us. Yet, she was resigned and stoic about the fact that she was dying.
When news of Vicky’s death broke, I was deeply sad. She had fought so very hard to stay alive. She did defy her diagnosis and went on to live probably four years longer than she anticipated. It is impossible to quantify her legacy to the people and families of Ireland in that time. Vicky fought for women and women’s rights to information. She addressed Irish Country Living’s Women & Agriculture conference in 2019. Her vulnerability, her stamina, her raw honesty and dogged determination inspired us. Her story shocked us. Yet, she was resigned and stoic about the fact that she was dying. She wanted to spend time with her loved ones and she wished to continue her activism.
She reminded us that we are responsible for our own health and encouraged us to ask for answers and copies of reports. She also put it up to us, saying that we’d test drive three or four cars if we were buying one and then incredulously, “You settle for one doctor and one opinion when it comes to health issues.”
Mandatory open disclosure is now a requirement because of Vicky, and we must demand it of our health professionals. I was sitting right in front of her when she was speaking and I could see the beads of sweat from pure exertion on her forehead. The physical toll on her was enormous. Vicky knew that she was going to die sooner than she should. She said, “I am living in the now because I don’t know how many tomorrows I have.”
That day, collectively we admired her and standing together to applaud her was utterly spontaneous. Vicky died knowing that she had done everything she could to stay alive and had also taken advocacy on behalf of people to new heights. We owe her a huge debt. The best way to honour her is to look after ourselves actively and responsibly. Rest in peace, Vicky.