That’s what happened to Fanta, a 44-year-old nurse we met when Mercy Ships was providing free surgeries to the poor in Cameroon onboard our hospital ship.
In Cameroon, as in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, it’s often difficult for people to get the surgical care they need. There are far fewer surgeons than we have access to in the UK. And, even when surgery is available, it’s often too expensive for people to afford.
This global surgery shortage means 5 billion people in our world lack access to safe, affordable, timely surgery — including 93% of people in sub-Saharan Africa.
All sorts of hurdles prevent patients from getting the care they need. Despite her long career as a nurse, Fanta was afraid to have surgery to remove the 10lb tumour growing under her right arm. So for 10 years she hid the tumour under draped shawls as she worked.
“How can I expect people to respect me as a nurse and not be scared themselves when I am too afraid to do anything about my own problem?” asked Fanta, whose melon-sized tumour made it difficult to wear the nursing uniform she’d dreamed of wearing as a young girl.
“My colleagues told me I would die if I tried to have it removed or if I left it too long,” she said. “I saw the surgeries, I saw the blood, and I hated the thought of not being in control of my own body.”
But Mercy Ships gave Fanta the hope she needed to overcome her fear.
“The nurses at the ship were so compassionate and loving. They kept reassuring me that everything was going to be more than OK, and something in me trusted them,” she said.
Mercy Ships doctors removed Fanta’s tumour for free, changing her life by giving her the confidence she’d been lacking for so long.
“I can now lift my arms with ease! I will be able to dress like the other ladies at my hospital. My husband has already bought me some new fabric so I can make more dresses that show off my arms!”