Wherever Kate Mason goes, she is never without insect repellent.
Even in the middle of winter the 42-year-old reaches for the spray, applying it liberally each morning, like other people brush their teeth.
She carries it in her bag so she can continue to apply it all day long - because not doing so can have far-reaching consequences.
“You would hope the cold weather would have killed off insects but I can’t take the risk of getting bitten,” she explains.
And it’s not just insect bites that Kate lives in fear of.
“I can’t shave my legs in the bath or shower now either, as the slightest cut could be devastating. Instead I have to use an electric razor which is not as effective.
“I have to moisturise my legs every day, and am constantly checking for marks or cracks on my skin, I can’t walk around in bare feet either.”
Kate is living with the effects of having her lymph nodes removed as part of her treatment for cervical cancer. She is now at high risk of lymphedema in her legs. People with the chronic long-term condition struggle to drain fluid from their body, meaning any infection from something as small as a spot, bite or skin nick would see Kate’s legs balloon up, potentially leaving her immobile.
The mum-of-two was diagnosed with cervical cancer in August last year.
She had attended every smear test offered to her and had not had an abnormal smear result before 2017. However, she had lived with a strain of the HPV virus associated with cervical cancer since it was picked up during a routine test in 2014. Between 2015 and 2018, Kate started experiencing irregular periods – something that had not happened previously – and occasional bleeding. From 2017 onwards Kate started to suffer with water infections for which she sought medical advice.
“When I was first told about the HPV virus, I wasn’t that concerned,” she recalls.
“Then last year I had another smear which showed borderline changes. That is when I started to get really concerned.”
Last May, tests revealed the HPV virus was still present, and following further tests she was told she had cervical cancer.
“Nothing can prepare you for the news that you have cancer,” she says.
“When I heard those words my life was turned upside down. My head was in a spin and I was scared about what the future would hold, not only for me but my children.”
Kate, who lives in Sheffield, and runs a wedding business, has two daughters Isabella and Kitty, aged 11 and five.
Doctors told Kate there was a five per cent chance that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. She was told that if the cancer had spread, she would never know and it could kill her.
Kate opted to have her lymph node removed, saying that her obligation to her two young children outweighed the risk of potentially developing the lymphedema which would not kill her like the cancer would. She also underwent a full hysterectomy.
Today, Kate is clear of cancer. However, she attends regular hospital appointments, as she is still at risk of it returning for five years.
“Although I no longer have cancer, that’s not the end of it,” says Kate, who has surgical scars, and lives with leg pain which makes exercising more difficult. Previously she enjoyed running with her partner Rob and had completed half marathons.
She adds: “At first we didn’t know what to do, but when the news of my diagnosis started to sink in I started to find out about the support that is available. Charities like Jo’s Trust have been amazing.”
Kate is sharing her story this month as part of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, which runs from January 21 to 27, in the hopes that her message could encourage other women to take up their cervical screening appointments.
“I just hope that by speaking out, other women and their families will realise the help and support available to them,” she said.
Rebecca Hall, specialist medical negligence solicitor at Irwin Mitchell - currently representing Kate to help establish answers to concerns she has about her care - adds: “The last few months have been incredibly difficult for Kate and her family as they attempted to come to terms with her diagnosis and the effect it will have on her life.
“Early diagnosis is key to beating cervical cancer therefore it is vital that women fully participate in the NHS screening programme, are aware of the symptoms, and if needed, ensure they receive medical advice as soon as possible.
“It is important that women diagnosed with the disease do not feel alone as there is help and support available.”
Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is organised by charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.
Visit www.jostrust.org.uk for details.
What you can do to prevent cervical cancer:
* Attend cervical sceeening when invited
* Know the symptoms of cervical cancer
* Take up the HPV vaccination ) for 11 to 18-year-olds)
* Know where to find suppet and further information.
The symptoms of cervical cancer:
*Abnormal bleeding during or after sexual intercourse,or between periods.
* Post-menopausal bleeding ( if not on HRT or have stopped for six weeks or more).
* Unusual vaginal discharge
* Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse.
* Lower back pain.
Cervical cancer facts:
* 2 women lose their lives to the disease every day
* 9 women are diasgnosed with cervical cancer every day
* 75 per cent of cervical cancer can be prevented by screening.