Evelyn O'Rourke explores women's cancer care in Ireland in new documentary
Ten years after her own diagnosis, Evelyn O'Rourke set out to discover what's changed for women in Ireland.
Evelyn O'Rourke's latest documentary, Ailse & Ise, is a multi-faceted exploration of what it means to be a woman with cancer in Ireland today.
Ten years ago, Evelyn discovered she had breast cancer while she was pregnant with her second son. In 2020, the journalist decided to set out to discover what's changed in the years since.
"What we've been through was so unusual, but we've emerged so well," Evelyn tells Her. "In cancer terms, five years, ten years, these are big milestones. I was in the midst of treatment ten years ago, so to be here, to be buzzing around feels like such a lovely thing. I wanted to use it to go in and see what has changed."
In Ailse & Ise, Evelyn meets a number of women with cancer, as well as their family members and healthcare providers to gauge the reality that is faced by so many. In Cork, she talks with Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene was one of the women who passed away following the CervicalCheck scandal.
"Why is it always women that suffer in our healthcare system?" Stephen asks.
While there's no simple answer to his question, it's one that Ailse & Ise interrogates at various points but particularly in her conversations with Lynsey Bennett a CervicalCheck campaigner who recently settled her case against the HSE.
The film doesn't reduce people with cancer to their illness or a singular narrative. Instead, it paints a broader portrait that captures the full spectrum of their lives. On top of that, O'Rourke's personal history allows for moments of profound understanding between the people she interviews.
"I wanted it to be unflinching," Evelyn explains. "I’m not scared to talk to people about cancer, because I’ve had it. I’m very comfortable about getting knee-deep in conversations about chemo side effects.
"That word feels like it can take over everything. But, it's about trying to re-establish you in the middle of it all. That's what I'm trying to do with this."
While the documentary shines an important light on the devastating consequences of the CervivalCheck scandal, Ailse & Ise also searches for hope.
For Evelyn, hope exists in the form of cancer trials, the very trials that saved her own life years ago. Since then, she has worked as an advocate for Cancer Trials Ireland. She acknowledges, however, that there are barriers in place that make funding their work difficult.
"It’s complicated," Evelyn says. "You don’t just need money for the trial. What you need is staff on the ground who get paid to work on trials. America has great models of care around this, where they have entire teams and that’s their job. We would love to see that kind of support on the ground in Ireland."
As well as looking to the future of cancer care in Ireland, Ailse & Ise gives necessary credit to the progress that has been made as a result of activists speaking up.
"Every time we reach into those topics, women are so generous and talk so beautifully and articulately about their experience.”
Evelyn O’Rourke: Ailse & Ise airs tonight at 9.30pm on TG4.