“I remember one of the worst days,” says Veronique. “I was in so much pain, I could not even get out of bed.”
Six years ago a tumour started to grow on Veronique’s chin. What began as a small bump slowly gained momentum until it took over her jaw, weighing down her face and causing her great agony. But what was worse than the tumour was the fact that her family could not help. “My sister could not, my children could not, even my own husband could not,” she recounts. “I cried over that many times.”
Her family’s powerlessness was not for lack of trying. “A few years ago my husband went to the national hospital, but we didn’t have the money,” Veronique recalls. She spreads her hands on her lap, as if to show the family’s empty pockets. “He pleaded with them, said he would pay them in instalments, anything – but the doctors just shook their heads.” Veronique bows her head, looking at the ground, perhaps reliving that time. “After that, things got worse.”
The tumour greatly affected her family life. Veronique continued to sell beans and rice at a roadside stand, but she hadn’t expanded her wares in years. She continued to serve at church, but she hadn’t been able to give to her full potential. And she continued to care for her five children, but she hadn’t been able to consistently provide for them for years. Her husband would often cut his own work short so he could step in. “He did as much as he could,” recalls Veronique. “He would help them with their homework, take care of the house, anything.” But because of that, his own work suffered.
But Veronique was not completely powerless. Her pastor was the family’s stalwart ally. He never stopped praying for Veronique and her family. Veronique smiles, remembering, “He had hope. I had hope. We all still had hope, that one day God would bring us a solution.”
One Sunday at church, that very pastor approached the family and told them about Mercy Ships. She brightened at the suggestion. “I’ll go,” she thought to herself. “Then we can be rid of this and start again.” Soon after, Veronique left her family, tried to ignore her pain, and made the three-hour trek to the screening centre.
Screening led to testing, testing led to approval, and approval led to Veronique’s sitting in a hospital bed onboard the Africa Mercy, waiting for surgery the next morning. “When this is gone, when this is done, things can start fresh,” she declared, echoing her thoughts from that first day her pastor mentioned the ship.
Three days after surgery, Veronique’s patient ID card hangs over her bed, a relic of the past. Today she points to the photo – the tumour prominent on her chin. She smiles, claps her hands together, and points back to her face, showing with a wide sweep of her arms that it’s done. “The pain is gone, completely gone,” she says as she shakes her head. “When my pastor finally sees me, he will be jumping for joy,” she declares. “He prayed for me, and now I am healed!”
Story by Anna Psiaki