Northern Ireland

Here I Am exhibition: Cancer survivors bare scars

Woman covering breasts Image copyright Here I Am exhibition
Image caption The exhibition will run in the Titanic exhibition centre before travelling across Northern Ireland

Some people may find these photographs upsetting.

The "Here I am" photographic exhibition is as shocking as it is beautiful.

It is an upfront and in-your-face portrayal of how cancer can ravage a body, but the stories behind the pictures are uplifting and reassuring.

Cancer survivor and exhibition organiser, Nina Cristinnicce, from Bangor, says she hopes it will trigger a conversation about the disease.

"Our final goal is to encourage everyone to talk more about cancer, talk about fears, practical matters, financial worries, dealing with emotions, daily challenges and facing physical changes, finding solidarity with other cancer patients and finding humour along the way," she told BBC News NI.

Joan McCartney, who has also been involved in organising the project, is urging people to visit the exhibition and hopefully break the stigma of having cancer.

"It is essential that we support each other in times of distress and with this in mind our long-term goal is to set up Here I AM as a registered charity," said Joan.

When cancer visits a person's life it can be devastating - physically and mentally.

Image copyright Here I Am exhibition
Image caption Paul Hutchinson says patients have to find humour in their journey

Take Paul Hutchinson, 44, who calls cancer "the beast".

He was diagnosed with a brain tumour while seeking help for headaches. He received a six to 12 month prognosis - over two years ago.

He said: "They told me that the tumour appears to be gliosarcoma, very aggressive and grade IV cancer.

"I looked at my partner's face, shocked. I, on the other hand, lifted my notepad and started with a list of questions, cause, treatment plan, follow up and prognosis.

"Now, this bit I felt was weird. I asked for the typical prognosis for this stage of the tumour and they were reluctant to say. I asked them if I don't know how long I am expected to live how I can fight properly.

"They said anywhere from six to 12 months. 'Thank you', I said, now I have a target, first six months, then a year, then two, and so on. "

Can there be humour during a cancer journey? Paul says humour is essential.

"What a great holiday, fear forgotten and life is normal again, apart from the obvious, that little beast called cancer taking up free room in my brain."

Image copyright Here I Am exhibition
Image caption Georgia Cocking is the youngest person to be involved in the project

The youngest person taking part in the exhibition is 14-year-old Georgia Cocking.

When she was four, she was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia. Already she has endured a bone marrow transplant, full body radiation and chemotherapy.

She advises - "Never look back always look forward, one day at a time."

Image copyright Here I Am exhibition
Image caption Linda McIlwrath says cancer has given her a different outlook on life

There are many women in the exhibition embracing life and revealing more than their scarred chests and bald heads.

Linda McIlwrath, 47, is battling a very rare and aggressive cancer of the connective or supportive tissues of the body more commonly known as LMS. Despite having a hysterectomy, losing her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, her zest for life is simply amazing.

"Between the scars and the continuing side effects of my operations - and now with hair loss - these are all constant reminders of what I have endured over the last number of years.

"Cancer has given me such a different outlook on life which I can actually be thankful for. It has given me a determination and a sense of urgency to do things. To me life is about making memories and the more I can make the better. "

This exhibition will challenge all your senses and might even leave you exhilarated.

Image copyright Here I Am exhibition
Image caption The exhibition is as shocking as it is beautiful

It will run in the Titanic exhibition centre this weekend, but will then travel across Northern Ireland.

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