It's been a very hard year, says prize-winning Northern Ireland ploughman on his recovery from cancer
A young part-time farmer and award-winning ploughman has described how he is rebuilding his life - more than a year after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.
Andrew Gill is only 24 but was told he had the cancer last June after complaining to doctors about feeling tired all the time.
Following a year of treatment Andrew's cancer has now been in remission for the past seven months, albeit with a few setbacks along the way.
Andrew, from Saintfield in Co Down, is a plasterer by trade, but now helps out with light work on the Gill family's beef farm. He is also a top ploughman, having won awards for his skills.
Acute myeloid leukaemia is a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells, which is typically characterised by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells which build up in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells.
The disease has taken its toll on Andrew's strength, meaning he is now having to give up plastering and look at a new, less laborious career.
"It has been a tough year but things are looking up and I am on the mend again and getting stronger," said Andrew.
"Following several treatments of chemotherapy, the cancer is now in remission and I am working on my strength to get it back to where it should be. I have had to sit back from plastering and help my dad with light duties around the farm.
"Before my diagnosis I was really fit. I used to rally motocross, play football and go running. But now I haven't anywhere near the energy levels I used to have. After 15 minutes of exercise I now get low in breath and tire easily.
"I have been looking at other career options and already have taken a course in health and safety and passed two exams."
There have been a couple of setbacks in Andrew's recovery process, as he found out last December. "It was during my fourth and final chemo session that I started to feel really unwell and was rushed into intensive care on December 1," he explained.
"The doctors told me I had picked up a bug, which affected my entire body and really floored me, dropping my heart and blood pressure. During my chemo sessions I had to stay in hospital for around six weeks each session. My fourth session was definitely the toughest and I was delighted to get discharged the week before Christmas. That was the best Christmas present ever, I can tell you.
"That period really drained me and put me off my feet for over a week, but thankfully I am on the mend now. Twice a week I go to the local leisure centre for a healthcare fitness programme and attend physio to help build up my strength and confidence.
"I have regular blood tests to keep an eye on how my body is coping with the recovery. I hope to return to competitive ploughing later this year, all being well.
"My father is also a ploughman and is travelling to Germany later this year to participate in the European Vintage Ploughing Championships."
Andrew is a member of Moneyrea Young Farmers Club, which last year ran a charity tractor drive that attracted 300 tractors and 45 cars and lorries, raising over £20,000 for the Friends of the Cancer Centre charity.
"Plans are in place to hold a similar event this year on August 17. The event starts at the Hillmount Garden Centre and will raise much needed funds for the charity and club funds," he said.
Andrew is very grateful for the ongoing support he receives from his family, friends and his girlfriend of three years, Ashleigh Coyle.
"She is my number one supporter," he said. "And she visited me almost every day in the hospital, as did my mum. It was comforting to see familiar faces through the long days and, of course, have some home cooked food when I was feeling up to it.
"The Friends of the Cancer Centre also supported me well both during and after treatment."
by chris mccullough