It seemed like a small thing, so Lalao* paid scant attention to the small bump on her face. Instead of disappearing over time as she expected, the swelling on the Malagasy schoolteacher’s face grew and grew. Over 14 years the benign tumour developed until it resembled a huge bag of marbles hanging from her cheek. The growth did not hurt, and amazingly her schoolchildren just ignored the strange sight. Lalao and her husband Albert were well-liked and respected by their small community, so people looked beyond her odd appearance. Lalao simply donned a scarf and continued to go about the village.
Eventually, Lalao’s burden prevented her from turning her head to the right, and she was unable to sleep comfortably. She could no longer help in the garden to provide food for their family. So the 50-year-old woman began searching for help to eradicate the tumour that was taking over her life.
Lalao and Albert spent time and money searching for a medical solution. But, after exhausting all their finances, no help had been found. Lalao was deeply discouraged, but Albert was determined to keep looking.
They were astonished when a sick baby from their village returned from the Mercy Ship with his tumour completely gone. When they heard about Mercy Ships, they knew they had found their answer at last.
Lalao went to a Mercy Ships screening day in the nearest city, but the number of hopefuls already in line seemed endless. She returned the next day, and again there were hundreds of people ahead of her in the line. They had disabilities and conditions she had never seen before. But Lalao was encouraged in spite of the long line. “They can treat people like me!” she thought. “Even if I have to be in line for two weeks, I’m going to wait!”
So Lalao joined the line at three the next morning. It was cold in the mountains, and at least two hundred people were already waiting. Eight hours later, Lalao gave her medical history to the team. She was carefully examined, and 90 minutes later she held the treasured appointment card.
The sale of a precious pig paid for their transport to the Mercy Ship docked at the coast. After so many disappointments, hope and healing was finally at hand.
Lalao was full of smiles as she prepared for surgery. The next morning she managed to say, “It was not painful! I just woke up, and it was gone!”
Albert is overjoyed his wife is rid of the tumour that weighed approximately 5 kilograms (11 pounds). “The way Mercy Ships is working is simple and really good,” he says. “It is so amazing they could remove it in one surgery. I was so happy I cried when Lalao came back from the operating room.”
In just a few days, Lalao could see great improvement. “It’s looking good,” she said. “Now I can turn my head! Before surgery, I couldn’t look to the right. I am free of that big mass. I am very, very happy. I’m in good health, and now I can turn my neck.”
“When we go back home, we will share this story in the village,” promised Albert. “Everyone knew what the tumour was like – it had been there for 15 years! We will tell people Mercy Ships removed a tumour … and, if you have this kind of problem, they can help you too.”
*Claire Lucille is her given name, but she prefers Lalao.