Many of us have injuries, stretch marks or war wounds – all of which leave behind a story in the form of a scar. We might try and hide these blemishes to avoid re-living the battle. But what happens when your scars become the focal point of your life?
It was a normal Tuesday afternoon for 42 year old Leon, catching a lift on the back of a friend’s motorcycle. Racing through traffic, the driver swerved to avoid oncoming vehicles as they made their way across the city. All of a sudden they lost control and Leon was thrown from the bike. Given the extent of his friend’s life threatening injuries, Leon counted himself lucky to only walk away with flesh wounds around his jaw. With the hospital closed and little money to spend on treatment, Leon made the long journey back home to his remote village. Little did he know that leaving his injuries to heal without medical attention would result in a keloid tumor of scar tissue that would grow larger and heavier every day.
Fifteen years later, unable to access the care that he needed, life with this wife and eight children had become increasingly difficult. He pushed through and continued working on a cocoa farm to support his family, but it was no easy feat: “There are certain things I just can’t do at work, like using a chainsaw. It’s just too uncomfortable for me” said Leon. “It brings me down that I can’t do my job properly”.
Word of mouth brought Leon to Mercy Ships, as his wife and children waited eagerly for his return to his village. Back home he was used to being mocked, the taunting voices becoming a part of everyday life: “There are few people left that empathize with me anymore. I am sad and not really living my life, but rather coping with life”.
The tumor, which was one of the largest keloid tumors the plastic surgeon had ever operated on, was successfully removed and a skin graft used to patch up the remaining wound around his jaw. But surgery alone could not remove the emotional baggage that had grown around Leon’s heart. Before long a smile began to spread across his face, where once there was sadness. The scar tissue that had grown from years of torment and ridicule began to break away: “I feel lighter” he proclaims, “like a weight has been lifted and not just because of the physical tumor. My burden has been removed”.
As the time drew closer for Leon to return home, he pictured his reunion with his family: “My younger children won’t recognize me, they’ve never seen me without my condition!” he exclaimed. Leon’s tumor had determined how he’d felt for a very long time; different, rejected and displeasing. But after time on the Africa Mercy, those feelings were exchanged for assurance, acceptance and contentment.