Yaya, now 27 years old, initially noticed something starting to grow on her jaw. The once-small tumor continued to grow aggressively until Yaya had difficulty eating or speaking. Eventually, the tumor would have threatened her ability to breathe, causing an early death.
Unwilling to submit to a future where she wouldn’t see her daughter grow up, Yaya fought against the odds. But in a region of the world where health care is scarce and often financially out of reach, hope felt far away.
Yaya’s attempts to receive surgery were unsuccessful. She tried not to let unkind comments from strangers discourage and shame her, but the pressure to hide herself away was strong. She spent much of her time inside, and when she was forced to go out in public she wore fabric draped across her face in an attempt to mask her tumor.
For eight years, Yaya fought — for herself, for her husband, and most of all, for Moonira. Finally, her miracle arrived in the form of a floating hospital! After Yaya came onboard the Africa Mercy, her kind spirit was immediately evident. Despite facing hardships and rejection, she refused to become bitter. Instead, she was quick to offer help translating for other patients and reassuring people around her that they could relax and trust the volunteer nurses and surgeons.
After her tumor was removed and she began recovering, Yaya’s energy was contagious! She was so excited to return to home her family and show them her transformation that she could hardly sit still!
“I feel beautiful and happy!” she exclaimed with infectious confidence. When her husband saw her for the first time after surgery, his joy was also evident as he said, “You became so beautiful!”
Without the burden of the tumor, her life became simpler in tangible ways — she felt free once more. “Since the surgery, I feel released. Everything is easier to do,” Yaya said. “I feel free to move and go anywhere. I don’t get a reaction anymore from people who see me.”
Yaya remained joyful during her months of recovery, but one constant thought was still present in her mind: reuniting with her daughter. She called her on the phone regularly. One day, Moonira called her, saying that a neighbor had shown her before and after pictures of another woman with a similar tumor who had been treated by Mercy Ships.
“Mummy, is this what you’ll look like?” Moonira had asked in disbelief. Yaya laughed, knowing that no photograph would do her transformation justice. She held on through the years for her daughter’s sake, and now, they can rejoice together at the change that took place and the future that awaits them.
Written by: Rose Talbot
Photography by: Shawn Thompson
Edited by: Karis Johnson