FAMILY, faithful friends and those closest to Vicky Phelan gathered in a huge show of support as the woman, who courageously unearthed the CervicalCheck scandal, launched her compelling memoir, detailing an extraordinary story of hope and resilience.
The Mooncoin native, who was thrust into public life when she refused to be silenced about the CervicalCheck scandal after settling her High Court action against the HSE, launched her aptly titled memoir ‘Overcoming’ at a special event on Thursday evening at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).
The best-selling memoir delves into Vicky’s remarkable personal story which saw her overcome a life-threatening accident in early adulthood, a serious accident involving her daughter Amelia, a devastating discovery that her cancer had returned in shocking circumstances – and the ensuing events that resulted in her history-making legal action and her subsequent system-changing activism.
Addressing the packed room in the Tourism and Leisure building, Vicky said to have her two book launches in the educational institutions that shaped her life was a fitting tribute. “I think education is so important. It has been to me throughout my life… It saved my life,” she explained.
Vicky started working in WIT 13 years ago in the Literacy Development Centre. Acknowledging the team’s support when life got tough, Vicky was overcome with emotion when she said, “Those women saved me from myself on more than one occasion, because while I was working in the Literacy Development Centre I went through a lot of things between Amelia’s accident and my cancer.”
It was the love of her family including her husband Jim, daughter Amelia, son Darragh, her mother, father and siblings that got her through her most difficult times. “My family mean the world to me and the only reason I am still standing here is because I have such a fantastic family… I don’t think people realise when one of the many things that have happened to me happens you really need a good support network around you and my family have been mine,” Vicky said.
The mum of two always knew she had a book in her, but the memoir came about after Miriam O’Callaghan insisted that she wrote it down on paper and put her in contact with publishers Hachette. Ghost writer Naomi Linehan, who was given Vicky’s diaries, skilfully brought her story to life.
Vicky personally thanked her former teacher Ms Breda Keyes, who was present to officially launch her memoir.
Ms Keyes said everyone knows Vicky as the woman who “refused to be silenced”. “She became a household name when she stood on the steps of the Four Courts after her successful court case. I first met Vicky as Vicky Kelly when she joined a lovely group of first years in September 1987 in Mooncoin Vocational School,” she recalled. “It was immediately clear that there was something very special about Vicky. She had keen intelligence, was studious and diligent, but also very popular, a trick that’s not easy to pull off in secondary school,” lauded Ms Keyes.
Vicky went on to use her exceptional language and communication skills to bring to the fore the Cervical Check debacle, she said. “I always knew Vicky was destined for greatness. And indeed her heroic contribution to public life in Ireland has surpassed anything we could have imagined. But there is so much more to Vicky and her life than cancer.” In the preface Vicky promised the “unvarnished truth”. Ms Keyes stated, “There is an honesty in the book that stops us in our tracks. In places it is crushing reading, only made bearable by Vicky’s indomitable spirit and knowing that she is here tonight.” She added that it is empowering in the way it inspires others to stand up for what they believe in.
Meanwhile, Vice President for Strategy at WIT Dr Richard Hayes said WIT was privileged to be a small part of Vicky’s story. “The community of WIT bursts with pride every time Vicky makes an appearance. We see her very much as one of our own…” he said.
He said Vicky had always been able to call things as they are and call people to account. “Vicky is an extraordinary truth teller who does so with exemplary civility and good humour. She is an example to everyone.”