Underneath the swirling pattern and bright dye of Djenabou’s scarf was a massive goiter that had been growing for over 18 years. For more than half her life, she’d carried its weight … a weight producing far more than the physical effects of a mass slowly closing her airways. Djenabou felt like the goiter had made her its captive. Beneath its weight was a woman who believed she would never find love or have a family of her own. She kept it covered, constantly fearful of what people might say.
The goiter began as a small lump on her neck and slowly progressed to a large mass constricting her airways. It made breathing difficult and caused regular bouts of painful coughing.
Djenabou described her condition as a “huge hindrance” in building a life of her own. She earned a living renting out a bicycle transportation service, but she dreamed of one day being a seamstress and having her own trade. But that dream seemed to be out of reach because of her limited neck mobility.
Hope was born when Mercy Ships came to Cameroon. When Djenabou thought about what her life would be like after a free surgery, she didn’t focus on the relief of her physical pain. “I will be free,” she said simply, as a smile tugged on the corners of her mouth. For the first time in her adult life, she would no longer have to hide behind layers of fabric.
The goiter was removed on the Africa Mercy, in a surgery that required four blood donors. Fortunately, Mercy Ships has a “walking blood bank” system, which means qualified crew members are always on call to donate blood to patients in need.
“It was such a blessing to care for [Djenabou] prior to surgery. She was so joyful! I provided her preoperative teaching and shared with her that she may require a blood transfusion. I was so happy to find out that my blood went to her!” said volunteer ward nurse Kathleen Wagner, who took care of Djenabou before and during her surgery.
After the removal of her goiter, you might suppose that Djenabou’s biggest dream is to be a seamstress. But you would be wrong. Her biggest dream is to find love—her own “happily ever after.”
Written by Rose Talbot
Photography by Saul Loubassa-Bighonda
Edited by Karis Johnson and Nancy Predaina