A woman who carried a watermelon-sized tumour on her back for almost four decades was dubbed ‘the monster’ by her neighbours.
Mariette, who asked to be known only by her first name, was often shunned and kept away from children as a result of her growth.
It began to grow when she was in her 20s. But by the time she reached her early 60s, it spanned 20 inches and weighed 10lb – heavier than most newborn babies.
Some even suggested that she had been cursed by the lump, saying it was the result of black magic.
Sadly, her poverty-stricken family – who survived on barely enough to get by – had no access to surgery or money to pay for its removal.
Left to deal with the pain caused by carrying the non-cancerous tumour, Mariette endured cruel taunts from strangers.
Mariette, who finally had surgery to remove the tumour in October 2014, thanks to a special team of medical volunteers, said: ‘Some people said it was a spell.
‘Neighbours told their children, “the monster was going to get them”.
‘That was the most difficult part. They told their kids to be afraid of me and “not to get too close to that old lady”.’
Despite her difficulties with the lipoma – a soft, fatty lump that grows under the skin, Mariette fell in love and married, going on to have six children and six grandchildren.
But she was still keen to have the tumour that had blighted so many aspects of her life removed.
And she was delighted in October 2014 when a friend told her that volunteer surgeons were visiting her hometown in Madagascar.
They encouraged her to go for a screening, to see if they could help her. And after being examined, the doctors removed the tumour for free.
Mariette had a two-hour operation on-board Mercy Ship, a special charity-run hospital ship, which stops at ports around Africa, treating patients who would otherwise be without access to medical care.
The charity is funded by individuals, Rotary clubs, trusts, schools, churches and companies.
Before going under the knife, Mariette was warned that surgery carried a risk of injury to the nerves and blood vessels in the surrounding skin and muscles.
She was also told it was possible the growth had been feeding off the skin’s blood supply, meaning its removal could result in the skin dying.
After a CT scan, to assess what the tumour was attached to, surgeons cut her skin, making sure enough remained to successfully stitch up the wound.
Then they cut away the mass, which was attached to skin and muscle and was being fed through extremely large blood vessels it had developed.
This meant surgeons had to take extreme care when cutting these, or Mariette would have bled to death.
After closing the wound, drains were used to allow excess fluids to flow away.
With her tumour gone, Mariette’s life has been transformed. She said: ‘I’m so happy.
‘The lump was disturbing my life, but we didn’t have the money for surgery. I just wanted to be free. I was waiting for it to be gone for a long time.
‘I’m grateful to the surgeons. Without them, I would never have been able to remove that burden. This is my liberation.’
For the first time since her 20s, Mariette can now lie down flat and wear clothes without them getting caught on the lump.
Volunteer surgeon Roy Hanks, who performed the operation, said: ‘When you first look at her from the front, you don’t really notice anything unusual about her.
‘Until she makes just that gentle turn to the side and then you notice that she has this very large growth off of her back.’
Stressing the desperate need for volunteer surgeons to treat patients like Mariette, he continued: ‘Surgery is just not an option for these people, financially, or they don’t have access to care.
‘This may be their only hope. If we can’t do it here, they’re going to keep it.’
Mercy Ships, founded in 1978, operates the world’s largest floating hospital, which delivers free, world-class health care to developing countries, where people cannot access medical attention.