Li Hongfang, of the remote Tianchao village in Qian county of Xianyang, Northwest China's Shaanxi province, has seven tumors on her face that scare people away.
The nightmare started for the 40-year-old woman in 2001, when she noticed a fingernail-sized lump on her forehead. She ignored it as it was not itchy or painful. But its increasingly worrisome appearance finally became urgent, and Li sought help at an infirmary in the county, with 300 yuan and two bags of wheat in hand.
The scans produced no results. The doctor suggested she go to a large hospital in Xi'an, capital city of the province, for further tests. Li refused because she feared a hefty cost, a decision that she regrets.
After enduring the pain for another four years, during which she lost her husband to a cerebral hemorrhage in 2005, Li sold all her valuables for several thousand yuan, to get surgery in Xi'an. But things did not turn out well.
The doctors, after another examination, diagnosed the seven facial tumors as chordoma, a kind of bone cancer, and it would cost at least 600,000 yuan for the surgery.
Li didn't understand how big the sum was, but she knew such a number was way beyond what she could afford. She received no government subsidies because she did not participated in China's rural cooperative medical care system.
The only other option she had was to see more doctors in big cities and try a variety of medicines, which meant she had to commute to Xianyang, 50 kilometers away, and Xi'an, 70 kilometers.
For a widow with two sons to raise, it was a huge hardship. Her savings soon ran out, and the debt-ridded Li sometimes could only beg on the streets for her treatment, which was 700 yuan at a time.
She gained some comfort from her second husband, Guo Yingping, by 2009, who shared her 10-square-meter shed. Guo makes a living by building houses in nearby villages, and he spends all his wages, about 80 yuan per day, on his wife's treatment.
Her two sons, 17 and 14, left the village to work despite her objections.
But her tumors are getting worse, covering the entire right side of her face and growing down to her breast. She also lost much of her hair.
Li, in spite of all those setbacks, said she would stay positive.
"I don't want my sons to lose their mother early like I did, so I have to be tough."
She hopes her sons can go back to school after she is cured.
Several students from home and abroad visited Li in April and wrote about her on Weibo, China's Twitter-like service, which was forwarded by thousands who sent text messages to encourage Li and called for help from the public.
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