‘She never thought of herself, it was always the boys or me'

July 7th, 2018 11:50 AM

By Emma Connolly

Stephen remembers Irene's commitment to ‘gentle parenting' which saw her fight an incredible battle to continue breast-feeding Noah despite undergoing gruelling chemotherapy.

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There were many places in Allihies that were special to Irene Teap, but her family chose the beach as the perfect place to spread her ashes last summer, says her husband Stephen

THE family of Irene Teap, who lost her brave battle against cervical cancer after two false negative tests, will mark her first anniversary in Allihies. 

Her husband Stephen said it was where his 35-year-old wife wanted her ashes spread – and it is where the family feel close to her. 

‘Irene said Allihies had to be where we spread her ashes, and we did it a month after she died. We never actually got to decide the exact spot, there were so many places there she loved, but the beach seemed the perfect place as it was where she had many happy childhood moments, and it was a place where we liked to bring the boys,’ he said. 

Stephen and their sons Noah (5) and Oscar (3), along with Irene’s three sisters and their partners and her parents, will rent a house in Allihies for a week in July, just after her anniversary, on July 23rd. 

Irene was diagnosed with stage-two cancer in 2015 after two false negative Cervical Cancer tests in 2010 and 2013. She was one of 17 women who died after getting the incorrect results. Her audited results were known three weeks before her death, but were not shared with her. 

Stephen went public with his story in May, when he discovered the truth, as he didn’t want Irene to be known as ‘one of the 17.’

He is originally from Rochestown, but his mum is from Sam’s Cross, Clonakilty, although he admits that before meeting Irene he hadn’t ‘ventured past Skibbereen’.

The remote area of West Cork has now taken on a whole new meaning for him. 

He met Irene, from Blackrock, when he was 20 and she was 19 when they both worked part-time in a sports shop in the city centre.

‘Six months later, we ran away together to Australia – something that her dad likes to remind me of! Irene was studying Computer Science in UCC at the time but she said I was a good excuse to give up,’ he laughs.

Returning ‘broke’ from their time in Melbourne, they went about getting ‘grown-up jobs’ – Irene in the HSE and Stephen in AIB – and in 2005 they bought their house in Carrigaline where Stephen still lives with his sons. 

He remembers Irene’s commitment to ‘gentle parenting’ which saw her fight an incredible battle to continue breast-feeding Noah despite undergoing gruelling chemotherapy. 

 ‘She stopped feeding Oscar when he was two and she was pregnant with Noah. He was five months old when she was diagnosed and one of her first questions when she was told was: “Can I continue to feed him, will the chemo drug be passed on to him?” She never thought of herself, it was always the boys or me.

‘She started researching and got in touch with a US professor who told her there had to be a gap of 20 days between the last treatment and resuming feeding, but she was determined and said “There’s only one way I’m doing this.”’

Her plan was to stop before the treatment and to resume 12 weeks later, he remembers, which she achieved through her own remarkable determination and the overwhelming support she got from support group, La Leche. 

‘Lots of countries have milk banks, but we don’t, so Irene posted a message on the La Leche Facebook page outlining her situation and looking for donations of milk and we got a huge response. 

‘Cork people dropped off supplies at the house and I was up and down to Dublin a lot at the time, and had a freezer box in the car and would have collected  donations.’

And to keep her supply up, despite being ‘as sick as a dog’ she kept pumping and dumping her own milk throughout her treatment.

As a result, people in similar situations contacted her, and Irene, a huge advocate of La Leche, was interested in becoming a leader with them, said her husband, who works with Volvo. 

‘She got great pleasure in helping others,’ he recalled.

‘When she finished her treatment in October, she had to wait until December 20th to feed. 

‘She picked Noah up and we were a little apprehensive but the very first time he latched on – it was a nice Christmas present.’

Irene got the all-clear in March but was rediagnosed in October. ‘That time we had just two hours’ notice to come to the hospital before chemo had to begin, earlier than planned. It was to last eight to 10 weeks and was a very high strength. There wasn’t the same time to get organised. 

‘Besides this time it was a very different fight, she was treated for a cure the first time, but this time it was about buying time, it was different. It broke her heart that cancer dictated to her when she had to stop feeding.’

He said her job in the HSE clerical admin dept didn’t really reflect the creative person she was. 

Her Pinterest tag was ‘simply stepford’ and in her profile she wrote: ‘I love to bake, constantly makeover my house, and am frequently guilty of losing myself in a book and ignoring everything else.’

Stephen said: ‘She loved getting the lads involved in baking and doing art work with them and making clothes for them.’ 

The actual date of the anniversary won’t really mean that much to him, he said. 

It’s a bit like Christmas, anniversary and birthdays, they are all equally as bad – the only exception being that the phone is a little busier, he said.

‘It’s really just a matter of getting on with it.’ 

But going forward, there are two things he especially wants addressed: trust restored in the screening process; and what he called the ‘cover up culture’ in the HSE to be examined. 

‘The HSE needs to be restructured – it does not work,’ he said emphatically. 

He said he was putting a lot of faith in the scoping enquiry by Dr Gabriel Scally. 

‘I’ve sat with him and gone through Irene’s case and highlighted areas and have got a lot of answers, but still not all.’

He said he was channelling a lot of his anger into making ‘right’ of the situation and to getting ‘to the end goal of getting the screening process back on track’ and trust back in the HSE. 

‘This is my fight now,’ he said.

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