Patsy Kensit has revealed how she was forced to have an emergency hysterectomy in June after doctors found two tumours so big they made her look seven months pregnant.
Patsy, 45, was 24 when she lost her own mother Margie to cancer after a 20 year battle. In a serialisation in The Sunday Mirror of her new autobiography Absolute Beginner Patsy recalls how she left the clinic with tears streaming down her face as she thought of sons James, 20, and Lennon, 14, living without her.
And although she faced a gruelling five-hour operation, a week on a morphine drip and potentially years of hormone replacement therapy, she confessed she kept the truth from the boys.
Terrified of exposing them to the fear and pain she endured as a child, she played down the seriousness of her operation, telling them instead that the doctors were "zapping a little cyst".
She said: "As a single mum, I'm very conscious that I have to be a mother to my boys and not a friend. I saw way too much of sickness when I was a child, and I never want to expose my kids to anything like that."
Patsy's ordeal first began back in September 2011, when a routine smear test revealed that she had a cyst.
Following an ultrasound, doctors discovered she had an 18-inch tumour in her ovary, later discovering that it was benign following the operation to remove it.
Two years later this summer doctors discovered two new tumours, when the Holby City star was admitted to hospital for pneumonia.
Patsy, who appeared in Strictly Come Dancing, explained she had noticed the swelling in her stomach herself, adding that by the end of the day she looked 'seven months pregnant' - an effect reminiscent of what her mother went through during her own illness.
And when an MRI scan revealed that she had two 6cm cysts, requiring an urgent operation, Patsy said she thought her luck was out.
Following a discussion with doctors, it was decided that Patsy would undergo a hysterectomy - with the actress even volunteering to have a double mastectomy if it would help her survival chances.
However, while the doctor insisted she would not need to have the mastectomy, Patsy decided not to let her sons know just how serious the situation was - especially as her eldest James was about to move to Sicily for work. James is her son by second husband, Simple Minds' frontman Jim Kerr.
"James came to visit me every day while I recovered from pneumonia.
"He was absolutely amazing that week – a tower of strength – but I played everything down because I knew he wouldn't get on the plane if I told him I was going to have surgery."
Meanwhile younger son Lennon – who Patsy had with her third husband, former Oasis singer Liam Gallagher – refused to leave her bedside though he had little idea just how sick his mother was.
"I couldn't let on to James and Lennon how scared I was," recalled Patsy.
"As a single mum I'm very conscious that I have to be a mother to my boys and not a friend – I don't want to use them as a crutch.
"I saw way too much of sickness when I was a child, which was no one's fault, but I never want to expose my kids to anything like that."
After recovering from the bout of pneumonia, Patsy then went back to hospital just days later for a five-hour operation to remove the two tumours.
Following the gruelling procedure, Patsy was required to stay in intensive care for 24 hours, before having a morphine drip to help with the pain for the next week.
Patsy was then told she would have to wait for results of biopsies on the tumours to discover whether or not they were cancerous.
When the letter from the hospital arrived, Patsy revealed she 'cried with relief' after finding out that the tumours were not cancerous.
"I haven't once regretted having a hysterectomy – but I did have a little period of mourning for that part of myself," she said.
"It was almost like saying goodbye to my youth, and it was a very definite marker that I was moving into a new and very different phase of my life.
"But it had given me two wonderful sons, which I'm eternally grateful for."
And she maintains that, if it came to it, she would not hesitate to have a double mastectomy.
Absolute Beginner is published this week.