Hanging from behind his neck, the weight pulling him back as if he is carrying a football-sized heavy leather-brown satchel has brought mockery from people, shame and unhappiness for years. Carrying one’s burden is the story of the life of 73-year-old Kenneth Dube of Village 1B in Insuza, Matabeleland North Province.
He has a giant lipoma, a fatty lump most often situated between the skin and underlying muscle layer. They commonly occur in the neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, arms and thighs.
Four years ago, at St Luke’s, doctors said the lipoma weighed around 8,4kg and Mr Dube estimates it could be around 10kg now.
He has not had a decent night sleep in years as he has to grapple with positioning the lump all night long.
When Mr Dube turns his back the enormous lump glaringly hangs out for all and sundry to see. Sneers of disgust greet him when people see him. Villagers who have lived with him for years have given him a nickname uBhundu (in reference to the giant lipoma).
When he speaks about the nickname, his voice quivers in hurt as he relates that it makes him feel like an outcast.
“People call me uBhundu which demeans me a lot. I feel hurt each time they call me that. Others say it in my face, something that I can’t take out of my head and has been with me for a long time. Bhundu isn’t my name, mine is Kenneth Dube. I’m always sad, it has caused me a lot of ridicule,” he said.
The lipoma started as a small pimple some 52 years ago after he fought with another villager in Lupane where he was born. Fighting over what, Mr Dube does not even remember, but a reminder of that fateful day is the giant lipoma at the back of his head that has been growing steadily over the years.
“This all started in 1968, as a small pimple at the back of my head after fighting with some boy. We had a misunderstanding and he hit me at the back of the head. Gradually it started growing and growing. And with each year passing, people started calling me uBhundu. I ended up seeking help some four years ago,” said Mr Dube.
He has worked for Fawcett Security Company as a dog handler and Condemn Construction company as a guard when the organisation, Mr Dube said, was building houses in Pumula East, North and Pelandaba high density suburbs years ago. During that time, the lipoma was gradually growing.
He sought help four years ago at St Luke’s Hospital in Lupane and was told that he had lipoma.
“It’s not painful, but it has so much weight. I’m so desperate to be helped by people with this thing. I went to St Luke’s Hospital for treatment when it was slightly smaller than this. A Mr Charles said this is lipoma, it’s not a growth. This was four years ago and I was told that I need to be operated on and I failed to get that money. However, this is growing as the years go by,” said Mr Dube.
Married to Ms Senzeni Moyo, daily chores, that in the rural areas should be a norm, such as digging in the garden or chopping firewood with an axe, are a struggle for Mr Dube.
“Even when I try to do daily chores like cutting down a tree for firewood, I can miss it. This weight attached to the back of my head makes me lose balance when I try to use the axe. Digging in the garden, when I do that the back of my neck becomes painful in no time,” said Dube.
When the sun sets, instead of that being a cue for Mr Dube to get some much-needed rest, it is the beginning of a struggle for him to sleep.
He says he cannot lie sprawled on his belly, as the lump pushes against his neck. He cannot sleep on his back as the pressure of his body presses against the lump and experiences excruciating pain. The only way he can try to get some shut eye is sleeping on his side.
“I’d like someone to help me get rid of this lump in whatever way they can. When I go to bed, I lie on one side. When I feel that the pain is too much from the back as it’s pulling on one side, I carefully turn onto the other side, using my hands holding it in place. I’ve not had a decent night’s sleep in a long time because of the pain I’ll be feeling when I lie down,” said Mr Dube.
Mpilo Central Hospital Clinical Director Dr Solwayo Ngwenya said Mr Dube’s case was not life-threatening and could be treated.
“It’s not expensive in Government services. And in any case, he is above 65 years of age, he doesn’t pay anything. They can go to the clinic and the clinic refers them to a central hospital for surgical management.
Usually this isn’t a life-threatening condition, people can have it removed and they feel fine afterwards,” said Dr Ngwenya.
He however, urged Mr Dube to stay at home for now and adhere to lockdown regulations before going out to look for help.
“So now we encourage him not to travel because of coronavirus. He might want to treat lipoma but the virus kills him in two weeks. He must wait until the virus has settled and he can go to his local clinic,” said Dr Ngwenya