ACCLAIMED photographer Gerry Andrews had just returned from climbing the Himalayas last year when he noticed the pain in his back wasn’t shifting.
He thought it may have been due to trekking, but it persisted and after some time he discovered it was an inoperable tumour.
If it had gone undetected - and not treated by radiotherapy - it could have paralysed him.
Then he discovered he has multiple myeloma blood disease, a rare form of cancer, which affects just 1% of patients.
“I have been through the mill over the past 12 months,” he told the Limerick Leader.
A number of things have kept him going.
He jokes that among them is the drug EPO, which Lance Armstrong and other professional cyclists have used to increase red blood cells, and the amount of oxygen in the blood. “I’d recommend it to anybody,” he joked.
His main focus, which has steeled his mind in troubled times, is his upcoming exhibition in Dublin, which opens next Thursday, August 7 in the National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar, who wish to acquire the images for the national collection.
“There have been occasions in the past year where I thought it was all over, but the exhibition has been the prime objective in my mind, ” he said.
“I’ve always been philosophical in life – whatever happens, happens. I am not suffering from depression, anger or any sense of ‘why me?’ It’s part of who I am now, and I have to adjust to that. It’s a sea-change in terms of your life,” he said.
Gerry’s wife June died from cancer many years ago, and he said she has been his role model because of the way she dealt with her illness.
“She always said it’s harder on the people you love, and that’s very true. But I’m battling on. I’ve no reason to complain. I’ve been very lucky and just take it a day at a time, and don’t take anything for granted any more. I can’t over-think it - at this moment of time, I’m walking, I’m above the sod, life is good.”
The Dublin exhibition follows on from his hugely successful show in the Hunt Museum, and his book of the same name, Shaped by History.
It was only in recent years that Gerry, who worked for this newspaper many years ago, unearthed his his treasure trove of photographs, taken in Limerick’s Milk Market in the 1970s.
This exhibition in Dublin has received funding from Limerick City of Culture, after he was approached by the board’s former director Karl Wallace to take it further afield, before the latter’s controversial resignation. However, another of Karl’s ideas has borne fruit, which this exhibition receiving some €6,000, amid an overall budget of €6m for the year.
“The exhibition is all about the characters of Limerick, and the interest in these pictures from around the world has really astonished me, ” he said.
Entitled Shaped by History, Gerry dropped the previous appendage - ‘Limerick in the 1970s’ for the Dublin audience, as he said “they could have been taken in any Irish city in the 70s. They just happened to have been taken in Limerick. They represent a period of great change in Ireland, and a vanishing Ireland.”
“I’m just so pleased that the response has been so positive. It was a fantastic success in Limerick, and I’m so glad to be able to bring it to Dublin,” he said.
Gerry is due to undergo stem cell treatment in St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin for this after the opening.
The exhibition will feature 90 of his prints, some of which measure seven feet high, which proved challenging blowing them from 35mm negatives.
All going well, his dream is to travel to Tibet next year.
“My consultant looked at me as if I was off my head, but she never said no. It’s on my bucket list, but the Aran Islands might be more do-able at the moment.”