LIMERICK auctioneer Pat Kearney was struck “out of the blue” when his doctor told him there was cancer in his oesophagus – the pipe that carries food from the throat to the stomach.
Eleven years previously he had suffered another trauma when his brother-in-law Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was murdered by an IRA gang in Adare on the morning of June 7, 1996.
On foot of receiving his diagnosis in 2007, Kearney, then aged 65, was suddenly faced with his own mortality.
The discovery by doctors that a tumour was growing inside his oesophagus came as “a big shock”.
He had “no symptoms” such as, difficulty swallowing; persistent acid reflux; unexplained tiredness; unplanned weight loss.
“I didn’t drink and I didn’t smoke and I exercised every day,” he added.
He decided to go for a check-up after his brother Hugh, who was similarly “healthy and strong”, passed away not long after he was diagnosed with late stage liver cancer in 2006.
“Hugh didn’t know he had it until it was too late. After his death, I rang my GP and asked him did I need a check up, and he said no, that I was the healthiest man in Ireland.”
Just to be sure, it was agreed he’d let doctors look under his bonnet. After a series of scans he expected the results would confirm a clean bill of health.
Kearney had previously served as a Garda, and he was used to dealing with dramatic news, but when his diagnosis came it was still a huge shock.
“I finished up with no oesophagus, no gullet, and my lymph nodes were gone,” he explained.
While advances in surgical procedures for cancer of the oesophagus came later, Kearney had to undergo “major” surgery to root it out.
“They deflated one of my lungs, they opened me up straight down the front and they opened straight across (the back) so I was left with two fine scars.”
“It’s not as evasive now as it was then. It’s more keyhole now, if they get it early enough,” he added.
His surgery, tough as it was, proved to be “a doddle” compared to the three-months of chemotherapy that followed, he said.
“I lost three stone nearly overnight. I went off food, couldn’t look at food, couldn’t touch food.”
He made a full recovery, but, for a time the effects of the cancer and subsequent treatment left him “walking around like a skeleton”.
“I lost three stone so fast. It was a huge surprise to me and all my family and friends because I looked the picture of health up to that point.
“It’s a silent killer because it’s in your system and you don’t even realise the bloody thing is there, and by the time you have serious symptoms it could be too late.”
He continues to “sing the praises of the great surgeon Paddy Broe”, for giving him a second chance at life.
A youthful 77-year-old, he deals with the past through “positive thinking”, but he never truly recovered from the shock of Jerry McCabe’s murder by the IRA.
“It was a horrible time for everybody. Jerry was my best man when I got married to his sister Eileen. The year after I was Jerry’s best man when he married Ann, so we go back a long way,” he said.
“At the time of the murder, my father had died but my mother was alive, and it was shocking for her. Jerry’s father was alive and his mother had also died. It killed his father, it just killed him, and he lost all hope after that.”
“Ann’s father Bill was a garda as well, and he died in tragic circumstances. Garda Bill Cuniffee, from Roscommon retired from Edward Street Garda Station and was offered a job by CIE as security man in Colbert railway station.
“Bill was a very abstemious man, a non-smoker and non-drinker, and he spent every Sunday as an umpire for the GAA. He kept control above in the railway station.”
“One day there were a couple of winos acting the maggot up there, and he came out and was asking them to leave, and one of them turned around with a bottle and hit him on top of the head. He went unconscious and was a number of weeks in hospital, and he never regained consciousness.”
Kearney himself served as a Garda in Edward Street, from 1961 to 1965, “in the Sergeant’s Office” before a stint “from ‘65-‘66 in the Superintendent’s Office in Templemore Town, and from ‘66 until I left the force in ‘70, I was in the Chief Superintendent’s Office in William Street”.
He was also temporarily stationed in Pallasgreen and Nenagh.
“I was only in my 20s for God’s sake, I had a ball”.
Generally his beat was quiet: “There was no serious crime like there is today, it was all local crime, young fellas acting the eejit. There was no heavy stuff”.
His nine years in the force proved to be a great networking tool which helped him transition into the auctioneering trade.
After nearly half a century in business he has seen massive changes, particularly with the advent of social media.
“When I went into the auctioneering business, I knew everyone around Limerick – the good and the bad. That was September 1970, forty-nine years this month.”
“Back in the old days it was more personal. You had a number of established auctioneering practices in Limerick, William B Fitt, Lionel Sexton, De Courcy’s, Con Shanahan. It was competitive.”
“It was a different world, there was very little advertising that time, there were no photographs or For Sale signs, no brochures, none of that. Those were days when you could leave your door open,” he added.
He takes his motto “positive thinking will get you through” to a Limerick-based support group for oesophageal cancer patients and survivors, which he helps organise with fellow survivor Noel Walsh, who has survived bowel cancer.
They regularly meet up in the Limerick Strand Hotel for a cuppa and a chat, swapping stories and experiences with the 20 or so other members of the group and their loved ones, who are always welcome to attend.
“It’s a great leveler, when you’re sitting with a group of people who have been through the same trauma. It should be a great inspiration for everybody to see old fellas like myself and Noel that we are living proof that you can survive it and you can get on with your life,” he said.
They will both help pack bags in shopping centres to raise funds for the Oesophageal Cancer Fund (OCF) for their national fundraising event, Lollipop Day, which next year falls on February 28 and 29 .
Anyone wishing to attend the Limerick oesophageal cancer support group should contact Pat Kearney on 061-413511 or Noel Walsh on 086-8288147.