Mother-of-two who survived cancer has to rely on insect repellent to prevent her becoming seriously ill
Most women carry make-up or hairspray in their handbags in case they need a touch up at work or on a night out. But for Kate Mason there’s another essential item she must take with her wherever she goes – insect repellent. The 42-year-old has to apply it every day as just one insect bite could leave her seriously ill. But the cautious mother-of-two doesn’t have a fatal allergy to bugs.
Her vigilance is due to the effects of cancer treatment that involved having some of her lymph nodes removed. It means she is now at high risk of developing lymphedema – a condition which prevents the body from properly draining fluid. Infection risk Even the smallest bite from a flea could lead to an infection which could cause her legs to balloon and, at worst, lead to disfigurement, pain, and disability. Some cases have even proved fatal. “You would hope the cold weather would have killed off insects but I can’t take the risk of getting bitten,” said Kate. “I also have to moisturise my legs every day, I’m constantly checking for marks or cracks on my skin, and I can’t walk around in bare feet.” Permanently on her guard: Kate has to be extra vigilant at all times (Photo: Kate Mason) Kate, from Sheffield, who runs her own wedding business called Pretty Chairs, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in August last year. She had attended every smear test offered to her and hadn’t had an abnormal result from one until 2018. Although a strain of the HPV virus associated with cervical cancer had been picked up in 2014, she continued living with it, not thinking it was anything to worry about. Abnormal results Between 2015 and 2018 however, Kate began experiencing irregular periods – something that hadn’t happened previously – and occasional bleeding. From 2017, she also started to suffer with water infections and went to see her doctor. “When I was first told about the HPV virus, I wasn’t that concerned,” she recalled. “Then last year, I had another smear which showed borderline changes. That is when I started to get worried.” Last May, tests revealed the HPV virus was still present, and following further tests, it was confirmed that Kate did in fact have cervical cancer.
“I had just got back from a week’s holiday in Ibiza when I got the news,” she said. “There was a letter from the hospital asking me to come in to see the consultant waiting for me at home and I just knew. I was devastated.” Kate then had to break the news to her daughters Kitty, aged five, and Isabella, 11, that their mummy was sick. “Nothing can prepare you for the news that you have cancer,” she said. “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.” Danger of spread Doctors told Kate there was a five per cent chance that the disease might have spread to some of her lymph nodes. If it had, they added, she would never know and it could prove fatal.
With more than 800 women each year in the UK dying from cervical cancer, Kate didn’t want to take any risks. So she opted to have the potentially affected lymph nodes removed, reasoning that her obligation to her two young children outweighed the risk of developing the lymphedema associated with her decision.
“They said that I would have a life-long risk of developing lymphedema once I had them removed and told me I would have to be extra careful not to get a cut on my legs, so I wouldn’t be able to wax or shave them,” she explained. “Normally, if you get a cut, the lymph nodes wash the infection out of the body but mine wouldn’t be there to do that any more.”
“They said that I would have a life-long risk of developing lymphedema once I had them removed and told me I would have to be extra careful not to get a cut on my legs, so I wouldn’t be able to wax or shave them,” she explained. “Normally, if you get a cut, the lymph nodes wash the infection out of the body but mine wouldn’t be there to do that any more.” Read more about cervical cancer diagnosis: Woman unable to have children after 14-month delay in cervical cancer diagnosis despite symptoms showing She also underwent a full hysterectomy and luckily, was then declared free of cancer. But Kate is still at risk of the disease returning over the next five years so has to attend regular hospital appointments. On top of that, she has to protect herself 24/7 from any insects in case she gets stung or bitten, and has to be incredibly careful not to get even the slightest scratch on her legs or feet in case it leads to an infection. “I thought that after having all that treatment, once the cancer was gone, I would be back to my old self again but I’m not,” she said. “I am constantly worrying about getting lymphedema in my legs. ” Kate did accidentally cut her shin after dropping something on it at work a couple of months ago and had to have hospital treatment. “I drove straight to my parents’ house to wash and dress the cut as they were nearest to me and over the next few days my legs started to go red and swollen so went to hospital and was given a course of antibiotics,” she recalled. “They said I’d done the right thing but I did panic a little.” Life-changing With no lymph nodes to drain the fluid from her legs, Kate can’t be as active as she used to be. She’d previously enjoyed running half marathons with her partner, Rob. She also suffers from pain and numbness in her thighs and a scan recently revealed she had developed lymph cysts in her stomach as a result of having the nodes removed. These may need to be drained if they keep growing.
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