A woman who is forced to shave three times a day has been left devastated after the NHS refused life-changing laser treatment on her skin - as the procedure is "too cosmetic".
Mother of two Cheryl Howe, 32 has to keep removing hair from her face, breasts and stomach every day due to a lifelong condition which affects her hormones.
She claims to have spent £2,000 a year on razors and shaving cream and last January, after a ten year wait for help on the NHS, underwent a successful trial for a £10,000 laser hair-removal treatment to make her a ‘real woman'.
Cheryl and her two children, Sharon, now 15, and Jack, aged 6
But last month after she hadn’t heard anything about a further appointment at Leeds Teaching Hospital, she called only to be told she was no longer on the waiting list as her treatment was 'cosmetic'.
The decision comes after Cheryl, a parts advisor for a car firm, was originally warned by doctors she would never conceive because of her condition. Despite their warnings the couple had two children Sharon, now 15, and Jack, aged 6. She is also awaiting surgery to remove her ovaries after a recent fight with cancer left her more susceptible to future illnesses.
"I am absolutely heartbroken," said Cheryl, from Morecambe, Lancs. "This horrid condition has dictated my entire life and gets too much for any man to handle. They can’t deal with the fact that I can grow a beard quicker than they can.
"After a 10 year wait to have my voice heard and my condition treated on some level, I finally thought I was going to become a real woman. But was then shunned because my treatment was cosmetic."
She adds: "I am no different to a burns victim or a woman seeking breast implants to enhance her confidence. I feel completely devastated, and can’t help but wonder if I will ever have the chance to love my body, as I never have because of the condition.
"'This isn’t cosmetic. I have a disfigurement. It’s horrendous I’ve had to wait so long for treatment. All my life I have been the punchline, the easy target."
Cheryl was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) when she was 12 after tests showed she had small cysts growing on the ovaries. Initially, these cysts interfere with hormone development, and typically lead to excessive hair growth, infertility and miscarriage in the rare event of conception - and even increase the chances of developing certain varieties of cancer.
She added: "I don’t understand how the NHS can just push me aside without a second thought after I have waited on a list for almost 10 excruciating years. It took me constantly begging my dermatologist to be placed on the list in the first place and I have patiently waited my turn, despite fighting cruel comments whenever I leave my house, combatting online trolls and battling a horde of horrific health problems along the way.
"Despite having two beautiful, healthy children I have also suffered two heartbreaking miscarriages, one of which happened almost 5 months into the pregnancy, the other when I underwent cancer treatment.
"After being diagnosed with cancer for the first time at 21 and fighting it three times since, I had my womb removed in a cautionary procedure. I am currently waiting to have my ovaries removed to diminish the chance of developing ovarian cancer."
Her trial laser hair removal treatment was successful and she says she was delighted, but soon after the offer of surgery was withdrawn.
"To suddenly withdraw my application is so cruel and almost callous. I have seen how effective the treatment is and how much it could change my life for the better. They tell me it's because my treatment was 'too cosmetic' and not a good way to spend their limited funding, but a burns victim or an insecure woman with a flat chest would be given utmost compassion, and my procedure would be no more cosmetic than theirs.
"Severely overweight people are often offered a gastric band on the NHS, and they often become fat by choice. I didn't ask for PCOS. This is a terrible condition that is ruining my life and I deserve to be taken seriously by those who are supposed to care for a living."
She says she is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with her condition and has even considered taking her own life.
"My body has been probed, poked and prodded for years and I am fed up. I have faced terrible bullying throughout my life, incredible physical pain, emotional trauma and loss on an incomprehensible scale," she adds.
"Over the years I have found it more and more difficult to cope with my condition, and I even attempted to take my own life on one occasion. I am not proud of it, but I was broken."
Despite this, she is determined ro change the world for PCOS sufferers.
"There is a serious lack of understanding of the condition, despite it affecting 1 in 3 women around the world. This urgently needs to change, because too many women are forced to suffer in so many ways, yet have nowhere to turn and no support from professionals," she says.
A spokesman for NHS Lancashire North Clinical Commissioning Group said: "The CCG has a limited amount of money to spend, and has a public duty to spend this appropriately across the range of health care needs. In all cases the decision made by the panel is based on the clinical effectiveness of the procedure for a particular patient and not on financial grounds."