Like many young couples, Annabelle Harper and James MacDonald long to start a family.

They have been together for nine years and recently bought their first home in Ferndale. Annabelle herself comes from a large, happy family, one of four children, and she would love to create a family of her own.

But she suffered from cervical cancer, aged just 25, which left her unable to become pregnant. Now she and James are desperately seeking a surrogate mum to carry a child for them.

“We have to find a surrogate,” Annabelle says. “It’s so much harder than anyone could imagine.

“We bought our first home last year, and we think about filling the rooms with children.

“People do not realise how it affects you. I think about the cancer or the surrogacy every single day. Having children is supposed to be something that’s natural; this is anything but.”

Now Annabelle, 31, shocked by reports of falling take-up for cervical smear tests, is urging young women to overcome worries about embarrassment so they have a better chance of avoiding the devastating illness and treatment which has left her facing a medical menopause at such a young age.

“It makes me angry people are nervous about having a smear – I almost take it personally,” she says. “I’m trying to get the message across, saying that five minutes’ embarrassment could prevent you from dealing with this. I’m on a bit of a quest about it. The treatment is likely to have saved my life.”

Despite the challenges she has faced with her illness, and is still facing with the struggle to find a surrogate, Annabelle glows with health and well-being, and has a powerful, positive outlook on life. She is the store manager for Gap at the Outlet Centre and a passionate runner, completing several marathons and half marathons. She keeps in shape with visits the Battleground gym in Rodbourne, plays netball and runs three times a week.

“I’m quite addicted to running now,” she says. “My partner has a very healthy outlook about it. I still have to push myself out the door to have a run sometimes, but I enjoy it, and other people find it inspirational – I have inspired others to run.”

Annabelle was born in Swindon and grew up in Stratton St Margaret. She went to school in Kingsdown, where she enjoyed hockey and netball. After a year at New College, she started working in retail at Debenhams, and later moved to Swansea to work as a sales manager.

At 22, she met her partner James, who was in the army. They moved back to Swindon in 2011, where Annabelle got a job as a manager at Warehouse.

“I lost a lot of weight – dropped two dress sizes,” Annabelle recalls. “Then I started to feel down, and my moods changed, and I became very tired. By September I started to have bleeding between periods.

“I thought it was stress-related. I went to the doctor and burst into tears – I felt awful. I was signed off work for two weeks, I had never been signed off before. I was due a smear test, so I booked in to see the nurse, but she found it difficult to get a result, because there was a lot of bleeding, and I knew then that something was not right.”

A few weeks later, Annabelle had a colposcopy at the Great Western Hospital. “After the examination, they kept referring to cancer but I didn’t hear it,” Annabelle said. “So I would say to anyone else, take someone with you, with a pen and paper, because you may not hear what they are saying.”

Annabelle’s friend Amy Francombe supported her through this time – which Annabelle appreciates enormously. “Some people are brought into your life for a reason,” she says. “She was there from the start to the finish of that journey.”

Two days later, Annabelle was admitted for day surgery, but she lost a lot of blood during the operation and woke up in so much pain she was unable to return home. At this stage she had still not received a definitive diagnosis, and her mother Sharon urged her to ask questions. Finally, a MacMillan nurse arrived to talk with her.

“She was very uncomfortable when she realised no-one had actually told me,” she says. “25 years old is very young to have cervical cancer.”

Annabelle was due to have a hysterectomy, but instead was transferred to the Oxford Churchill Hospital for treatment. Before this began, Annabelle went to a fertility clinic and started IVF treatment. On top of all she had been through, she suffered ovarian hypersensitivity and had to go to hospital when her ovaries became swollen in response to the injections. Fortunately, she had 44 eggs harvested.

Treatment for the cancer proceeded, with radiotherapy five days a week for five weeks, and chemotherapy one day a week for five weeks. She also had brachytherapy, a treatment for cancer in which radioactive material is inserted directly into the womb.

“I suffered nausea, and felt very drained, and my skin itched all the time,” Annabelle says. “I 100 per cent could not have done it without James. He is an unbelievable human being. How many men at 24 would give up everything to be with their partner? Without him, I could not have gone on to have children. He pushed for that to happen. He did not leave my side.”

In September 2012, Annabelle was delighted to get her official results and the all-clear, and in 2017 was signed off from the check-ups. The treatment, however, had killed her ovaries and damaged her womb.

She and James now have 24 frozen embryos – and they need to find a surrogate. Even the storage has a cost, at £300 a year. Parents seeking a surrogate are not allowed to pay for the service, but they can offer reasonable expenses. Annabelle said only two surrogacy agencies existed in the UK – and their lists were closed.

“So many people need them for a whole range of reasons,” she said. “There are not enough to go around.”

The guidelines on who can be a surrogate are stringent, Annabelle explained. The woman must be in a relationship, have already had a child, be of a healthy BMI, and preferably be aged between 25 and 35, with women at the younger end of the range preferred. The standard storage limit for frozen embryos is 10 years, so Annabelle and James have only five years left to use theirs.

“I hope 2018 is the year we finally have some answers on what we can do,” Annabelle said. “If people had a day in my head, and what I have to think about, they would go for their smear test.

“All my life I presumed I would have children. All my life I thought I would be married and have two or three kids, but my life was turned upside down it upset what I had envisaged.

“When I was told I had cancer, I was so driven. From that moment, my life has felt like it was running towards something. I want to raise awareness – cervical cancer is a killer. To have people message me, and tell me they had their smear test, that makes it almost worthwhile.”