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Laura Brennan
Laura Brennan
Image: HSE

'An incredible young woman': Tributes paid to HPV vaccine campaigner Laura Brennan

Brennan was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 24.
Mar 20th 2019, 5:17 PM 101,209 47

Updated Mar 20th 2019, 9:42 PM

TRIBUTES HAVE BEEN paid to Laura Brennan, one of Ireland’s leading HPV vaccine campaigners, who died earlier today.

Brennan was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 24. Since then, she became involved in the campaign to raise awareness of the HPV vaccine to try to save lives.

The HSE confirmed that she died at University Hospital Limerick today. 

Although Laura Brennan went through treatment for her condition, and was predicted to have a good chance of recovering, the cancer spread to her lymph nodes. This meant that there was no treatment for her condition, other than palliative chemotherapy that would prolong Laura’s life.

The Brennan family said: 

Laura was a light in the life of everyone who knew her; a wonderful daughter, sister and friend. We are lost without her.
We are all incredibly proud of the work she did in the last 18 months to help protect other young women like herself from the cancer that has taken her life today. 
Laura used her voice, her generosity and her energy to help parents to make informed choices and protect their daughters from cervical cancer.  

The family said she “wanted to make a difference, and use the time that she had to right what she felt was a great wrong”.

Interim HSE director general Anne O’Connor has expressed her sincere condolences to the family and friends of Brennan. 

“We are all deeply saddened to learn of Laura’s death, and we feel immense gratitude and admiration for her and her family.  Laura has defined courage and generosity as she supported our work to ensure girls get the HPV vaccine, and are protected from this terrible cancer,” O’Connor said. 

“We know that Laura has made a difference, and will have saved lives through her great effort and her tremendous generosity of spirit,” she said. 

Campaigner Vicky Phelan paid tribute to Brennan on social media today. 

“I have no words, just tears and emptiness at the loss of another young woman who used what was left of her time to campaign so that others would not suffer her fate. Please, please vaccinate your children,” Phelan wrote.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he is “deeply saddened” to hear of Brennan’s passing, adding that “the State owes her a debt of gratitude”. 

“Laura was an incredible young woman and a powerful campaigner,” Harris said. 

“As a person, she was kind, funny and full of life. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Every time I met Laura or spoke with her, I was inspired by her. Amazing doesn’t do justice to her or her courage. I want to extend my deepest condolences to her family and friends,” he said. 

President Michael D Higgins echoed the words of Harris in his tribute to Brennan. 

“I am sure that I was among very many who were greatly saddened on hearing that Laura Brennan has died. Laura impressed so very many with her campaigning and her work as a patient advocate has had a real and positive effect on countless young women across the country,” Higgins said. 

On behalf of the people of Ireland, I send my condolences to her family and friends, and to all of those who have shared Ms Brennan’s journey. 

Many other campaigners, organisations, politicians and members of the public took to social media today to pay tribute to Brennan.

Clare County Council has confirmed that it will open a book of condolence in memory of Laura Brennan tomorrow at 10am in the public foyer of Áras Contae an Chláir. 

Brennan spoke at and was honoured at many events over the past year, receiving the inaugural Patient Advocate Medal from the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, and most recently being named Clare Person of the Year.

She was conferred with an honorary doctorate by UCD in acknowledgment of her advocacy work.

She spoke at the time about how she wanted to use her voice for the good of others:

I found my voice about a year and a half ago when I felt compelled to join the campaign to increase the number of girls receiving the HPV vaccine. When I did so, I joined the voices of all the HPV advocates in the country, along with the HSE and the HPV alliance, and together – our voices became louder. Loud enough so that people could hear us.
And thankfully, not only did they listen, they have started to act and that is the only reward I need – that parents agree to get their girls and boys vaccinated against this virus that is so common, so destructive and so preventable.

“This vaccine saves lives. It could have saved mine but it can save yours.”

The human papillomavirus (HPV) can lead to a number of cancers, including cervical, penile, throat and anal cancers in men and women.

Every year in Ireland, 300 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer – of that number 90 women will die of the disease.

With reporting by Gráinne Ní Aodha

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