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Ireland owes 'huge debt of gratitude to cancer campaigner Laura Brennan

A card bearing the image of Laura Brennan for the Mass of Remembrance and celebration of the life of the HPV vaccine campaigner Laura Brennan in Ennis, Co. Clare. Picture by Press Association 
Cate McCurry, Press Association

MANY people across Ireland owe a "huge debt of gratitude" to cervical cancer campaigner Laura Brennan, mourners have been told.

The 26-year-old died at the University of Limerick last Wednesday.

Hundreds of people attended the Cathedral of St Peter and Paul in Ennis, Co Clare, on Wednesday to say farewell to Ms Brennan, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 24.

The Mass, which was described as a celebration of her life, was held after her burial on Wednesday morning.

Among the congregation were Health Minister Simon Harris and RTE broadcaster Ryan Tubridy.

Fr Pat Malone said: "Laura spoke often in the midst of her personal illness about being in control of her personal freedom to act. How true that was of her.

"That freedom was facilitated by (her) parents and siblings, by the manner in which you allowed and helped her organise her schedule while adapting your own schedules so that she could do the things she wanted to do, in the middle of her personal illness.

"For this reason I believe that we, and so many people in our country, and those in the health services, owe a huge debt of gratitude to you, for the manner in which Laura promoted so passionately the call for women's healthcare in our country and indeed abroad.

"And we sincerely thank you for that."

Ms Brennan first contacted the Health Service Executive (HSE) in 2017 and publicly campaigned to support HPV vaccination and prevention of cervical cancer from then on.

Since she went public, uptake of the HPV vaccine has increased almost 20 percentage points, from 51% in 2017 to 70% today.

Fr Malone spoke of her courage to advocate for the HPV vaccine.

He added: "We need to remember that Laura loved life, the excitement of life, the parties, the holidays, the concerts, the weekends away, time for personal pampering and, of course, high-quality beauty products.

"Her personal goodness was evident all through her life and it was not unknown for her to reach out to a homeless person on the street, stopping to talk and check if it was tea or coffee that would satisfy the immediate need.

"So the courage, the awareness of the needs of others and the willingness to get involved in doing good which enabled her to engage as an advocate for the HPV vaccine was in action all her life.

"Laura, with great courage and with passion, threw herself into promoting the HPV vaccine.

"With courage and dignity she accepted what she could not change and focused on trying to prevent the same fate visiting other young women and men.

"She approached the HSE and we know the results of that partnership."

A number of symbols representing Ms Brennan's life were presented to the altar.

They included pictures of her friends and family, a detention slip from her secondary school, a Clare ladies football jersey, her make-up bag, a CD of her favourite music, and a photograph of her dog, Bailey.

Ms Brennan's brother Fergal described the final days of her life.

He said: "At this moment, what is most vivid in my mind is her final days. When it would have been easier for Laura to be angry with the hand she was dealt, these days I will remember for the grace, generosity and calmness Laura carried herself with.

"The final 24 hours of Laura's life personified who she was for the 26 years of her life; a strong, independent lady who always held her head high."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to the popular campaigner in the Dail.

"I would like to extend my condolences to the family of Laura Brennan, whose service of remembrance is happening in Ennis today," he said.

"She worked very closely with the health service to become a very powerful advocate for HPV vaccination.

"Because of her we were able to increase the uptake to of HPV vaccination and, while sadly she has lost her life, I believe her actions will save the lives of many people."

Ms Brennan was honoured at many events during her years of campaigning and advocacy, receiving the inaugural Patient Advocate Medal from the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, and was recently named Clare Person of the Year.

She was given an honorary doctorate by UCD in acknowledgement of her advocacy work.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin tweeted: "Our thoughts and hearts go out today to the family and friends of the late and wonderful Laura Brennan.

"A warrior for others and an inspiration to all."

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