by Sr. Marian Scena MMM Tanzania/USA 24.06.2023
Tonight I received a phone call at 11:55pm from Anna, who told me that Rose had died at 11:25pm. Who is Anna? And who is Rose? Maybe I had better start by telling you about Rose.
Rose is a 40-year-old mother of four children from a village in Iramba District, here in Tanzania. She had breast cancer. It began with a lump in the right breast which was removed at Singida Regional Hospital. She was told it was not cancer, but, although a sample was taken, Rose did not have the money to pay for the histology test, it wasn’t sent for examination. When the lump recurred, she went to Makiungu (MMM) Hospital. There she had a right mastectomy and was referred to a cancer referral centre in Dar es Salaam where she had six courses of chemotherapy at three-week intervals.
After this, Rose returned home to her husband and four children. She found that he had taken another wife while she was having treatment, and he threw her out of the house. She tried to commit suicide by hanging herself when she found she had no food, clothing or family, but somehow this attempt was not successful. In despair she turned to her former employer, Anna.
Rose had worked as a house girl for Anna before she got married and had a family. Anna, who was from a different tribe, welcomed Rose into her home and fed, nursed, and cared for Rose until her death tonight. Anna has two grown children and is separated from her husband. She makes a living by running a small kiosk near the local primary school. She is raising an orphan boy who found his way to her home when she lived in Arusha and attached himself to her. He is doing well at school. Another 13 year old, her brother’s son, is also living with her and going to school.
I first met these two women when Faraja Hospice and Palliative Care Programme was asked to visit Rose by the local government Chairperson of Anna’s section of Singida town. Anna had gone to the government leader to get permission to collect money from the local people to care for Rose. She showed me the three-page list of names and donations she had collected by going door to door asking for help to care for Rose as she didn’t have money herself to care for her. She had managed to collect the equivalent of 150 Euro or about $200. This Christian lady had brought Rose into her own home and bedroom and bed, but as the patient’s condition worsened, Anna was finding it harder and harder to care for her – especially as Rose now had severe pain and a very large cancerous ulcer where her breast had once been. I was so struck by Anna – her faith, her simple trust that God would provide for her needs if she took care of Rose, and her dedicated and loving care of her patient.
Rose was visited by our Hospice Team at least twice a week. This week we saw her each day until she died – a total of 26 visits, not including the visits by her Palliative Care Volunteer. During this time, we developed close bonds with Rose and with Anna. We were able to get oral morphine to relieve Rose’s pain, other medicines she needed and dressings to care for her wound. Anna was heroic but in the last two weeks it was obvious that she was getting physically and emotionally drained. It was very important for us to affirm Anna for the love and wonderful care she was giving Rose and also to help her prepare for the separation that would come when Rose died.
Anna welcomed Rose’s family members and Pentecostal Pastor when they came and fed them. At one stage they wanted to bring Rose home to care for her but Anna wouldn’t hear of it; she knew that they wouldn’t be able to care for her large wound and severe swelling of her body. Rose’s oldest son came to stay with her and we have been able to get funding to help him continue his education at Vocational School through Faraja Centre’s School Help for Vulnerable Children Programme. After we visited Rose, Anna would walk us to the car and we used this time to encourage her, to tell her what a good job she was doing, but also to prepare her for Rose’s inevitable death. Anna continued her practice of attending daily Mass until the last few days when she said she was unable to leave Rose alone. Rose used to say to her, “One day you will return from church and find that I have died!” But this didn’t happen as Anna didn’t leave her alone those last few days.
About a week ago Rose’s husband said he wanted her brought back and buried at his house but Rose felt estranged and didn’t want this. Four days ago, I talked with her and asked her if she might be able to forgive her husband for abandoning her? She found it very hard but eventually said she would leave God to deal with him. I said, “Rose, I’m not telling you to forgive him, but I think you would get much more peace in yourself if you could forgive him. Jesus died for you and your sins, but He also died for your husband and will forgive him even if the man doesn’t want to be forgiven.” She considered these words carefully.
This morning her husband arrived along with their Pastor. Rose was quite distressed with severe difficulty in breathing and leg cramps along with severe swelling of her legs. I showed the husband how to massage her legs as she found this helpful. We stayed nearly an hour and left him still massaging her legs. Anna told me tonight when she phoned to tell me that Rose had died, that Rose had forgiven her husband and they had been reconciled!
It is such a privilege, and often very humbling, to do Hospice and Palliative Care. There are so many precious moments when I am touched by our patients, when they have been stripped of everything as they journey to meet their God. It is such a privilege to be part of their journey!
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