A devastated mum has called for young women to be offered smear tests after her daughter tragically died of cervical cancer at just 23 years old.
Mercedes Cousins died after an 18-month battle with the disease which her mum thinks could have been treated if discovered earlier.
Although Mercedes had shown the symptoms of cervical cancer, smear tests are not routinely offered to women under 25 -even though she had requested one.
Her heartbroken mum has now launched a campaign to persuade Government to lower the age for smear tests. She has the backing of several MPs who want the Government to reverse a decision made in 2003 when the age for screening was raised to 25 from 20.
Sandra held a protest at Westminster this week, telling reporters: "I knew I had to take action.
This is what Mercedes would have wanted – I'm just fulfilling her wishes now she's gone."
Mercedes was just 20 when she began to experience stomach cramps and irregular bleeding, which can be the symptoms of cervical cancer.
Speaking to The Mirror, Sandra says Mercedes was desperately worried about what could be wrong with her.
Despite being checked out by her GP and a sexual health clinic several times, it was a full year before her cancer was detected.
Sandra was away on holiday when Mercedes called her to say she was in terrible pain:
"She was in absolute agony with stomach cramps. I told her to ring her sister Kirsty and get to hospital straight away.
"She was seen by a gynaecologist and sent for an MRI scan. Then she had further tests that revealed the worst."
Her stunned mum said it felt like her heart had been ripped out as doctors said Mercedes had stage three cervical cancer.
"It was inoperable but hopefully curable. I knew it would be a race against time to save her.
"The doctors started her treatment straight away, but I kept thinking, how could it have taken so long to get the diagnosis?
"Then Mercedes told me she'd asked for a smear test months before. She wasn't eligible because she was under 25. All that time wasted."
Mercedes had 33 sessions of radiotherapy, three sessions of brachytherapy and nine months of chemotherapy, but five months after starting treatment, she was told the disease had spread, and she had only months left to live. She broke off her engagement to her boyfriend Federico as she could not bear for him to see her so ill.
She eventually passed away in her mum's arms in December.
"When Mercedes died a part of me died too," her mum says. "What made it worse was it didn't have to happen. It could have been prevented."
SUCH a tragic waste of life - why on earth are young women not being routinely offered smear tests?