Vicky Phelan, aged 43, is a native of Mooncoin
A Kilkenny native and mother-of-two facing a terminal cancer diagnosis is on the cusp of getting a potentially life-saving drug to treat her cancer as she waits to see whether she is eligible for a clinical trial in the US.
Given just 12 months to live by her oncologists, Vicky Phelan, set up a GoFundMe page which has raised almost €140,000 since February 13 of this year to help pay for treatment.
Vicky – who currently lives in Annacotty in Limerick but is originally from Mooncoin– previously said her goal was to raise €100,000 to access a clinical trial in Maryland, USA and meet the associated costs.
A tumour block has now been sent over to the US to be analysed and it is the "last piece of the puzzle", Vicky says.
The 43-year-old mother of two says in the interim she is close to getting pembrolizumab from Merck, Sharp and Dohme with the hopes that it will halt the spread of her cancer before she gets formally accepted for the clinical trial in the US.
When speaking to the Kilkenny People today, Vicky was at Waterford University Hospital to meet an oncologist whom she hoped could get access to the drug.
Vicky says the money raised so far will cover most of the cost of the trial, but it will only cover about half the cost of her back-up trial in New York which could be in the region of $260,000.
She says she hopes to find out if she’s eligible for the Maryland trial in the next few days as they analyse the tumour sample.
Vicky, who is married to Jim and is mother to Amelia, 12, and Darragh, 7, was first diagnosed with cervical cancer in July 2014, but following an aggressive course of radiation and chemotherapy, was given the all-clear late that year.
A routine scan in November last year, however, showed a large mass of lymph nodes around her aorta, which is inoperable.
Having already had the maximum dosage of radiation, Vicky was offered palliative chemotherapy as her only option, which she was told may give her one more year of life.
It was not a prognosis she was willing to accept. “I went to Dublin for a second opinion from Dr David Fennelly.
“He agreed, though, that in Ireland there are no options for me, but he was open to me going abroad.”
Dr Fennelly told Vicky the Maryland trial was an excellent one to get on to if she could, but pointed out that one of the drugs it used, pembrolizumab, was what she should really be chasing.
“It's made by Merck, Sharp and Dohme, says Vicky, “which I pass in Clonmel every week on the way to work (in Waterford Institute of Technology), but it’s only licenced in Ireland for melanoma and some rare lung cancer, because it’s so expensive."
The drug is now expected to cost in the region of €10,000 per dose.
“It’s a numbers game,” she sighs, “the pharmaceutical firms won’t licence it for cancers like mine because there is only a small number of patients and it's not worth their while. It’s all down to money, unfortunately.”
Speaking to the Kilkenny People previously about the support she's received, Vicky said: “I’m stunned by the support I’ve had so far, it’s amazing and I’m so grateful. The support from the people of Mooncoin has been phenomenal."
There is a Midnight Walk organised for Vicky in Mooncoin on Friday, April 6.
To donate to Vicky’s GoFundMe page, visit www.gofundme.com/savevickyphelan