I’ve steered clear of the repeal debate, I haven’t commented or joined in to any great extent.

There are a number of reasons why, most of them are personal, and I won’t go into them in this blog. Suffice to say, anything to do with my uterus, isn’t something you should be spending your time, concerned about.

A number of things have struck me though about the debate and this is looking at it purely from the perspective of a still viably reproductive female who has cancer.

I was originally diagnosed at 33, I had three young children 5,7 and 6 months old, I was attending a well-known cancer centre in north london. I don’t actually remember, if I was asked, before I had my suspicious mole removed, under local anaesthetic if I was pregnant, but I certainly was asked before I had a larger operation, a month later under general anaesthetic to sign a consent that included a declaration stating I wasn’t.

After this operation, I was offered an adjuvant trial, this was an experimental treatment, that I hoped would prevent the cancer from returning, no guarantees it would. With Melanoma in 2004, it’s important to put into context where I was at, and how precarious a position I had found myself. If the cancer returned shortly after that surgery (quiet possible), or at any stage in the future, (up until the approval of the first new viable treatment which came about 2013 in Ireland), unless more surgery could somehow prevent it spreading further, I would have quiet simply died.

When I signed for that trial, I can remember distinctly my Oncologist at the time advising me I should not get pregnant, not then, and because of the experimental drug, not in the future. To me this wasn’t a big concern, I was lucky my family was complete.  Whilst still on the trial I returned to settle in Ireland, I never really gave any thought to what would happen if I did accidentally find myself pregnant while on treatment. I think I just assumed somehow naively, that I would be looked after, what that actually meant in reality wasn’t so clear.  Naturally, I took precautions but as we know nothing is one hundred per cent effective. Unexpected things happen.

I would attend my appointments, and scans and sign the paperwork without little thought to the consequences if I was. I mean I was always sure I wasn’t pregnant, but if I had been or there was any doubt how different would things have been?

Well for a start any monitoring scans to check if the cancer had returned would have been off-limits for me. I could possibly have had an event free pregnancy, but what would the effects be on a baby born in such a scenario? there was no way of knowing. Would the pregnancy hormones drive my cancer out of remission, and make it active again, leaving me fighting for my life or my children motherless, I don’t have the answer to that and neither does any oncologist? If the cancer had returned and I was pregnant living in Ireland what would I have done?

Today I read a report in the Irish Times

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/eighth-amendment-casts-shadow-over-care-for-pregnant-women-1.3454604

It was like a snapshot of what my fate might very well have been, in that scenario.  The report was based on an interview with Prof. Louise Kenny,  she felt compelled to respond to an opinion article by Prof Eamon McGuinness which had appeared in the same paper last week. I’m not going to run through the whole article but the link is above and I’d urge you to read it.

In the article Prof Kenny, states “It is an outrageous lie to say that the Eighth has never changed medical management or adversely affected the outcome of a woman with cancer,” she should know she specialises in the management of high risk pregnancies.

As an example of what she meant, she gives a case history of a patient, called Michelle Harte. In 2010, Michelle a 39-year-old mother of one, was living in County Wexford, but originally from London. Michelle had Malignant Melanoma and it was classified as terminal.

Remember, this is still when there is no treatment available that works, options would have been, Chemo, which frankly is next to useless for this particular cancer and is only ever used as a palliative care option now.

Her best hope at that time, was a Clinical trial.  BUT when Michelle presented pregnant for obvious reasons that excluded her from participation, in an experimental drug trial.

She was in the first trimester of her pregnancy and her obstetrician was willing to perform a termination. This would have enabled Michelle to continue on treatment, potentially buying her valuable time or maybe even remission. The termination had to be approved by Cork University Hospital ethics committee, because of the confusion surrounding the legal interpretation of the risk to Michelle’s life. They ruled against the termination saying there was no immediate risk.

Michelles response afterwards was damning “I couldn’t believe the decision [to refuse an abortion in Ireland] when it came,” Ms Harte, who was then 39, told The Irish Times in December 2010. “Apparently my life wasn’t at immediate risk. It just seemed absolutely ridiculous.”

Her only option was to travel to the UK to seek a termination. There were further delays, because Michelle didn’t have a passport or the financial means to go. She had to stop treatment, her condition deteriorated rapidly. She eventually travelled to the UK for a termination, by then she was extremely ill. There are reports of her having to be helped on to the plane.

https://www.independent.ie/regionals/goreyguardian/news/abortion-nightmare-for-cancer-sufferer-michelle-27340507.html

When she returned she gave many interviews, she was determined this should not happen to any other woman. Michelle died in November 2011 not long after receiving compensation for what had happened her from the state

 https://www.irishtimes.com/news/state-settled-with-cancer-patient-1.555035

I was the exact same age as Michelle, when this was happening to her. I too had malignant Melanoma, although mine wasn’t active at the time. I was lucky (although I’d prefer the type of luck where I didn’t have cancer to begin with), by the time mine decided to rear its ugly head again, there were some newly approved treatments.

BUT, I once again entered the world of being asked before each procedure was I possibly pregnant? If I had been, would there have been, no scans, no x-rays, no MRI’s, no Liver biopsies, no medication, until a decision was made on what to do, about the pregnancy. Time is very precious in this scenario, I didn’t have any more to waste than Michelle did, but thankfully I wasn’t pregnant. I could have all the procedures I needed and start my treatment which to date has been very successful.

Having cancer is traumatic, finding out you are pregnant on top must be horrific. But expecting a woman in this condition to get on an airplane to another country, if she has made the decision to terminate, ( I am aware not all women will), or advised it is in her best medical interest to do so is, barbaric.

So I’m not ashamed to say I will vote repeal on the 8th amendment at the end of May, and if it is passed I will breathe a sigh of relief for all the women for whatever reason, that won’t have to travel abroad for a medical procedure, that should be available to them in their own country.  I don’t feel any self righteous satisfaction about my opinion, like I have heard so often from the Pro-life movement, I don’t have any religious guilt left over from my catholic upbringing about voting repeal, I am keeping away from the nasty noiseness of this campaign, because for me when I tick that box it will be for Michelle for me & all the other women of Ireland who deserve a choice, when it comes to what happens within their own body…………

Michelle Harte
The late Michelle Harte who had to travel to the UK for a termination whilst receiving treatment for terminal malignant Melanoma Cancer in 2011