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I've beaten cancer for the 4th time; EXCLUSIVE COURAGE OF TV AIRLINE STAR WHO WON THE HEARTS OF THE NATION I WAS GIVEN MONTHS TO LIVE, WROTE GOODBYE LETTERS TO MY TWINS & EVEN PLANNED MY OWN FUNERAL.. BUT NOW.

Byline: By NICK OWENS

SHE'D beaten cancer three times before, but this time doctors had no hope for Airline star Katrina Batham.

The disease came back a fourth time and she was given just months to live.

So she wrote heartbreaking goodbye letters to her twin daughters and packed up boxes of things for them to remember her by.

She even planned her own funeral after doctors warned she might not survive an operation to remove a tumour from her liver.

But Katrina - who stole the hearts of millions when she battled cancer and got married in front of the TV cameras - has amazed the experts and WON her toughest-ever fight.

Now in a moving interview she tells for the first time of the latest cancer battle she kept secret from everyone except close family and friends.

Katrina, 33, from Milton Keynes, says: "When I beat cancer on Airline I had the nation willing me on. I still have every letter that viewers sent me and I cherish them. This time I surrounded myself with family and prepared for the worst.

"I was convinced I was going to die because my body was giving up on me each day. But I desperately wanted to live to see my girls grow up. They pulled me through."

Katrina got the dreaded news that the disease had returned three months ago after she had been free of cancer for eight years. She says: "After the tears, my first thought was can you even beat cancer four times?"

Her long battle to survive began 17 years ago at the age of 16 when she was first diagnosed with cancer. She recovered from that first bout and later become famous when the hit reality show Airline turned the spotlight on her job as an easyJet check-in girl at Luton Airport.

The cancer returned while she was on the show but her heroic health battle and her marriage to husband Julian, 39, in 1998 even earned her a Bafta nomination.

She left her job with easyJet after cancer came back a third time but pulled through once more - later landing modelling contracts, a job as a Miss England judge and another as the face of make-up firm HelenE.

In 2004 she astonished doctors by giving birth to her daughters - Clarissa and Freya.

But in March this year she started to feel tired and lethargic. "I knew the cancer had returned," she says. "When you have cancer you know your own body. I didn't tell my family at first because I didn't want to worry them."

Weeks later an MRI scan showed she had a massive tumour on her liver.

Doctors broke the news that her chances of survival were slim. All they could do was try to remove the tumour, but they warned her she might die from liver failure. If they didn't operate, they told her, she would have just five "quality" weeks of life left and would be dead within a year. Katrina says: "When I heard that I felt I had no choice but to have the operation.

"But I wrote my life off from that day. I thought this is definitely the end."

But remarkably, she managed to summon the strength to fight.

And just a day after being diagnosed she even hosted a family fun day in London.

"I didn't want to let people down," she says. "I arrived and people recognised me from the TV and asked how I was now. I was saying, 'I'm fine'. But then it sunk in that I wasn't.

"I went and bought a crepe to eat and found a spot in the corner to eat it. I sat there crying for ages."

Katrina's health quickly deteriorated and she lost a stone in just two weeks. She developed jaundice and spent most of her time in bed.

But the reaction of Katrina's twins helped her to fight again.

She says: "I was sitting on the girls' bed crying and they wandered in saying, 'Mummy, why are you crying?' That's when it hit me. I thought, 'Katrina, you are a mum now'. I had to fight for my girls." In the weeks leading up to the operation Katrina became so ill that she had to prepare for the worst.

Even though she could barely stand she took back new clothes to the shops and used the money to buy winter outfits for her daughters. She packed up boxes of their belongings, including their first dummy, first bottle and cherished clothes and toys, along with notes she had written saying why they were special.

Christmas presents were bought, wrapped and labelled. She planned her funeral with mum Pauline, 59, insisting that the song I Will Survive would be played, and wrote heartbreaking goodbye letters to her daughters. When Katrina went into theatre for her operation she was clutching pictures of the girls.

Surgeons Peter Friend and Zahir Soonawalla spent seven hours operating on her. They removed 70 per cent of her liver and her gall bladder.

She survived the operation and is gradually getting stronger.

Now she's been told she is cancerfree.

Doctors hope her liver will regenerate and that she will make a full recovery.

Katrina says the ordeal has made her appreciate life and her family more than ever. She says: "Mum was my rock - she slept in a chair next to my bed for 10 days - and Julian is my soulmate.

"And I must thank the surgeons who saved my life. I know one day the cancer may return but I take each day as it comes. I feel so blessed to be alive I want to shout it from the rooftops."

Katrina is telling her story to give other cancer sufferers support.

She says: "Being on TV, I know gave people hope. Strangers still come up and say they found me an inspiration.

It has been a long road but you have to keep going."

Two days ago came the sweetest moment on Katrina's road to recovery - hugging her children for the first time since the operation.

She says: "My scar was so tender I couldn't hug my girls. Finally I am able to pull them close. Now I give them two cuddles instead of one.

"I feel blessed to have been given the chance to still be here and to hold them again."

17-YEAR BATTLE

1991

She gets first cancer aged 16

1998

Disease is back while on TV show

2000

She leaves easyJet due to third bout

2008

Survives op on liver tumour

This time I thought it was definitely the end

nick.owens@sundaymirror.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

Katrina (right) on the TV programme; Katrina as an easyJet girl; Katrina is thrilled to be able to cuddle Clarissa and Freya after her ordeal; Julian and Katrina married in August 1998... by that October she was seriously ill in hospital when the cancer returned a second time Picture: NICHOLAS BOWMAN
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 3, 2008
Words:1159
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