A mother who put off getting a smear test for a decade has been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Kim Montgomery, 31, claims being pregnant four times “back-to-back” led to her postponing her cervical screening.
After experiencing abnormal bleeding, the hair-extension technician “had a feeling” it may be cancer.
The mother-of-four, from Dunfermline in Fife, went for a check-up on 20 December last year. She was told she had stage-two tumours on 5 February.
Montgomery is anxiously awaiting the results of an MRI scan, which will determine whether the disease has spread.
“I was told the cancer is grade two, but I don’t know what stage it is or if it has spread,” Montgomery said.
“Being told you have cancer is soul destroying.
“A part of me died inside when I was told my diagnosis.
“A million thoughts rushed through my head. Mostly about death and how I’m not ready to leave my kids behind.”
Montgomery - who is in a relationship with Dane Paten, 30 - claims you “can’t have a smear test when you are pregnant”.
“That was a huge factor in why I didn’t get one for so long, but I also just didn’t realise how important it was,” she said.
Pregnancy can make the results of a smear test harder to read, resulting in most women being able to delay the screening until at least 12 weeks after they give birth.
Those who have had an abnormal result in the past, however, may have an appointment while expecting.
Montgomery admits she was also anxious to have the screening.
“I got lots of reminders about going but I just ignored them,” she said.
“When I had my first one 10 years ago I remember it wasn’t nice so I wasn’t in a hurry to go back.”
Some women find cervical screenings uncomfortable, however, they should not be painful.
Montgomery only realised how important smear tests are when she experienced cancer symptoms.
“I had abnormal bleeding for more than nine months and I am still bleeding now,” she said.
“I was worried about it, but I just kept putting it off until I thought enough is enough I have to go and get it done.”
If a smear picks up abnormal cells, patients are usually referred for a colposcopy.
This involves using a speculum to open the vagina, allowing a medic to analyse the cervix.
Some may also have a biopsy to check cervical tissue for cancerous cells, as well as scans, X-rays, blood tests and a pelvic examination.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to get cancer, I am only 31,” said Montgomery.
“The doctors won't be able to tell me how long I have had it, but if I had just gone for a test they would have caught it before it turned into cancer.
“The doctors said they think I will need chemo and a hysterectomy, which would mean going through ‘the change’.”
A hysterectomy is surgery to remove the womb, with around half of patients also having their ovaries taken out.
Removing both ovaries causes a woman to “experience the menopause immediately after the operation”.
If the procedure leaves one or both ovaries intact, “there's a chance” a woman will “experience the menopause within five years”.
Montgomery - mother to Macaulay, three; Kayla, five; Lacey, six; and Dylan, 11 - has not yet told all her children about her diagnosis.
“I didn’t want to tell my children until I found out if it’s terminal,” she said.
“They know I am not well and I have told my eldest who said right away ‘are you going to die?’”
Montgomery is turning to alternative treatment and hopes to combat the disease with cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
CBD, a legal compound in the cannabis plant, is increasingly being praised for its “therapeutic uses”.
Laboratory studies suggest it may stop cells dividing and trigger their death, however, CBD could also “encourage cancer to grow”.
“It is still unclear whether using cannabis has any anti-cancer effects,” according to Macmillan.
Montgomery is speaking out to encourage women to attend their cervical screening.
“Since I announced I have cancer on Facebook, 19 women have said it’s encouraged them to go and have their smear test done,” she said.
“I want to raise awareness of how important it is for people to have their smear test.
“I hope sharing my story means more lives can be saved”.
“I just want to live as long as I can for my kids,” she said.
“I’m so scared of dying and leaving my babies behind.”
What is a smear test?
During a cervical screening, a small sample of cells is taken from the cervix for testing.
This involves placing a smooth, tube-shaped device called a speculum into the vagina. Lubricant may be used.
Opening the speculum makes the cervix visible.
Using a soft brush, the nurse collects cells. The speculum is then closed and removed.
The NHS is moving towards testing for human papillomavirus (HPV), rather than looking at cell changes.
HPV is a common virus that infects four in five Brits at some point in their lives.
Once infected, via sexual contact, most fight off the virus naturally.
Yet, of the more than 200 HPV strains, 13 have been linked to cancer.
After the screening, the next step depends on whether HPV is detected. Results are usually available within two weeks.