‘Vicky is everyone’s Wonder Woman’

A Donegal poet who has penned a beautiful poem to inspirational Vicky Phelan has described her as everyone’s modern day wonder woman.
In 2018, Denise Blake saw CervicalCheck campaigner in a hotel lobby in Limerick. Not wanting to annoy Vicky by approaching her, Denise paid her own homage to Vicky by curtsying to her.
Vicky, a mother of two, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in November 2017 having received incorrect false-negative smear test results in 2011.
‘For Vicky’ by Denise Blake was broadcast on Sunday Miscellany RTE Radio 1. It has been met with much acclaim locally but was also heard by Vicky, who tweeted on Sunday that the poem buoyed her as she faces the unknown in a new round of radiotherapy treatment for a tumour growing into her spine.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Denise said: “When I saw Vicky in the hotel lobby in Limerick in 2018 I didn’t want to annoy her. I thought she must be tortured by people approaching her. I found just looking at her very emotional and I wanted to do something to mark the moment so I curtseyed to her. It was my way of doing my own salute to her. She is an extraordinary woman, mother, campaigner.  I often think how does she get through it all, where does she get her strength from?”
Denise said ‘For Vicky’ was inspired by a poem by Ada Limón called ‘Wonder Woman’.
“To me, Vicky is everyone’s wonder woman. There are many women today who would not be alive if it were not for Vicky’s campaigning.
“All throughout her illness and treatment she remains talking about making memories with her children. She is simply incredible.”
Denise is a regular contributor to Sunday Miscellany RTE Radio 1. She sent the poem to producer Sarah Binchy.
“I was anxious that we both struck the right tone with it. This is not about me and I wanted it only to be about Vicky,” said Denise.
Having heard the poem, Vicky took to Twitter to thank Denise. She tweeted:  “The poem is simply titled, ‘For Vicky’, and it closes out this morning’s @RTESunMisc. It’s a truly beautiful piece and I will cherish it forever, especially over the next three weeks as I face into the unknown of new treatment. Thank you Denise for being so inspired by me that you wrote this amazing piece of poetry.
“Today, as I prepare to head into a new round of radiotherapy treatment to relieve the pain of a tumour that is growing into my spine, I cannot help but be buoyed up by two beautiful pieces that were written about me and appeared in today’s Sunday Independent and on RTESunMis.”
Denise said that while she hoped Vicky would hear the poem, she wasn’t expecting it.
“It was more of a wish that she would hear the poem. I never expected it. It was strange when I read her tweet, I kept crying. To see her write that the poem bolstered her up and buoyed her ahead of her latest round of radiotherapy was just so emotional. I spent Sunday in tears.”
Born in Ohio, Denise returned to Ireland with her parents and family to live in Letterkenny. She now lives in Ramelton with her husband, Laurence Blake. Denise was Visual Artist for the Regional Cultural Centre in January 2021.
She completed an MA in Creative Writing – Poetry from Lacaster University through the Poets’ House, Falcarragh. She gives creative writing workshops in primary and secondary schools in Donegal and in Northern Ireland, as well as working with adult groups. She is a facilitator for Poetry Ireland Writers in the School Scheme and CAP Poetry in Motion Schools, Northern Ireland – Poetry in Motion Schools; Poetry in Motion Community.
Denise said she is happy to be back in classrooms.
“I had been facilitating online during restrictions but it is hard to read kids online. What I am trying to do is to give children and young people a love of poetry.”
Working between the two education systems has been interesting for Denise.
“I also teach classes in the north. I was in a school in Belfast once and the principal remarked to me that the pupils in the school will live and die in Belfast. Juxtaposed with that, I had been to a school in Glenfin where I had been talking about emigration and I thought, ‘how am I going to help them understand about emigration?’. I asked them to put up their hands if someone in their family had moved away to another country and there were many hands that went up in response.”
Denise discovered her own love for poetry at the age of 30 when she undertook a Foundation Studies Course in Magee, Derry.
“The course included English and within that poetry. I found I was drawn to poetry and I understood it.”
‘For Vicky’

I was there, in an ordinary
Hotel lobby in Limerick city;
The decor sterile, beige.
Two women checked in at reception.
A teenage girl carried a tray of dirty dishes.
A toddler tried to break loose from her mother’s hand.
A uniform hotel space, no different from any other.

And then I saw her,
Seated on her own, laptop open on a coffee table,
Reading from the screen as she talked on her mobile phone.
I stopped, as in the presence of  pure royalty
And I curtsied
To Vicky, to the questions she posed,
The answers she insisted on,
How she knocked away the medical brush-offs,
How she refused to be silenced.
To the steel of her stare, her superwoman’s courage.

I curtsied, in honour
Of the women she has helped, the women
Whose lives she has saved,
And the women who have died.


I curtsied,
It was the least I could do.
I curtsied in a beige hotel lobby
And Vicky nodded back at me, and smiled.
Denise Blake

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