Emma’s Story


Emma Ní Mhathúna (top) was among a number of women asked by the HSE to promote its HPV vaccine programme in a video posted on YouTube last August.

Emma, a mother-of five, had recently been diagnosed with cervical cancer and urged parents to make sure their daughters took up the vaccination.

However, while filming, Emma was unaware that she had had a delayed cervical cancer diagnosis that went back to 2013 – four years before before the HSE asked Emma to participate in the video

In an interview on Raidió na Gaeltachta‘s An Saol ó Dheas, Emma told host Helen Ní Shé that she had had smear tests every three years since the birth of her daughter Natasha, 15, and that all the results had come back as normal until 2016.

Emma, living in County Kerry said:

The nurse called me and said that something was showing up in the smear, and that I needed to go to the hospital … On 20 September 2016 I got a biopsy done, but the doctor said to me straight out there and then that he didn’t need to wait to get the test results back, you have cancer and we have to act quickly, I’m ordering an MRI for you.

That was Wednesday, and on Monday I got the MRI and the doctor told me I had stage 2B cervical cancer.”

I was saying to myself, how did things get so bad … and I had the letter from (the smear in) 2013 to say everything was fine.”

Emma was treated at St Luke’s Hospital in Dublin. She moved to Kerry six months ago and is now under the care of University College Hospital, Cork.

Emma  said:

“Every 4 months I have an appointment with the hospital to check that everything is ok. On the 4 April I was there, and I had the kids with me because we have a game, when I get the all-clear I buy a helium balloon in a shop in Cork and we have a little party … When there’s cancer in the house, the children are always worrying if everything is ok …”

Although everything was clear in Cork in April, Emma explained to Helen that she hasn’t been feeling well recently and that she is now very worried.

“On 15 April, that’s a fortnight ago, I knew there was something wrong with my body again. I went to the doctor and he found something that was more than 1 cm there … I was at the hospital last week and had to get a biopsy done yesterday.

Everything is up in the air now … Séamus is making his confirmation next Tuesday, and I’m very worried about everything, so I asked the church and the school if Mario can make his confirmation as well. He’s in 4th Class. It’s good for me that they can both do it together. I had new clothes bought for them anyway.”

On Sunday, Emma got a call from her doctor in Dublin.

She said:

“He said that he hoped I was reading the stories in the paper about the Cervical Check. He said he didn’t have all my files in front of him, but that I was one of the women involved. I asked him to call Cork and to tell them to take good care of me.”

In a further phone call, Emma recalled:

“The doctor told me that the smear results I got in 2013 were wrong … the first indications of cancer, the cells changing in the body, were there.

If I had got the right results at that time, I wouldn’t be where I am now … I had a kidney infection in January, I have a lung infection now. My life … well I’m not too worried about my life, but the kids are very very young.

Of the HSE promotional video, Emma said:

There wasn’t enough uptake on the HPV vaccine.  After what I’d gone through … I said I’d have to take a stand and help people.  That video is on Youtube – that’s me and my daughter.”

Radio Na Gaeltachta

Earlier: Simon’s Memo

11 thoughts on “Emma’s Story

  1. Birdie

    So heartbreaking and infuriating in equal measure. My heart goes out to her and her family xo

  2. Sheik Yahbouti

    Oh, Christ almighty, this is heinous altogether. These fine young women, following advice, trying to care of their health for themselves and their families….

  3. Fabilo

    As a woman I find this particularly distressing to read. It’s so infuriating given that she was meticulous in having regular smears

  4. Bernie

    Thank you for sharing your story, Emma, you’re an exceedingly brave lady. Stay strong x

  5. Ron Dolan

    And to hear Tony O’Brien claiming he only heard about all this from media reports is just maddening. I note in news reports that he was already green lighted to take up a new position while still acting as HSE head.

    I’d imagine patient health comes somewhere quite low down a very, very long list of Tony O’Briens priority, a fair bit underneath tie choices, glasses frame colour, full or low fat milk and so on.

    Probably somewhere under what gauge of refuse bag he puts in his swing liner.

    Like the majority of his peers.

    1. Cian

      Do you realise that it is normal in most jobs to inform your boss you are leaving before this is made public?
      And in a small number of jobs, it is normal to need approval before taking a similar job in a competitor and/or where a conflict of interest may happen.

      And I think it says a lot about you that you imagine that patient health comes low down on Tony O’Briens priority.

  6. garthicus

    “My life … well I’m not too worried about my life, but the kids are very very young. ”

    That broke my heart.

  7. Janet, I ate my Avatar

    I don’t have the words to express my outrage, horror, deep sympathy and admiration for Emma.

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