Maria Perna: Surviving Cancer And Molestation
I Am a Beautiful Disaster
By Maria Perna
Victor Hugo once said, “Even the darkest days will end and the sun will shine.” I’ve had many dark days in my life. At the age of 14 I was diagnosed with cancer and spent three and a half years enduring intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I missed most of high school due to this and therefore did not get to experience many things a “normal” teenager would experience. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I looked at this opportunity as a chance to grow. I became stronger spiritually and learned to appreciate life. Each day is a gift and life should be lived to the fullest. I took my experiences and used them to speak to other cancer survivors in order to give them hope.
At 21 I had to have bilateral hip replacements due to the heavy doses of steroids that were administered to me throughout my treatment. I don’t think we ever really appreciate things until we don’t have them anymore. Before my hip replacements, I could barely walk. I would see people at college running around and having fun and I was in such intense pain I could barely make it through the day. After my hip replacements I needed to learn how to walk all over again. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for the ability to walk and for the gift of life.
I have had many challenges in my life, but the most difficult one I had to confront was the realization that I had been sexually molested as a child. I had brief memories throughout my life but I always pushed them aside and thought it was just my imagination. The brain is an amazing part of our body. It tries to protect us from harmful memories by repressing them deep down in our subconscious. My molester was a family member- my uncle. I had pushed aside memories my entire life until one day when they all came flooding back.
Six years ago, my uncle began yelling at me, demeaning me, and verbally and emotionally abusing me. At that moment, it was as if a volcano burst open and every memory came flooding out. I was absolutely devastated. The cancer and hip replacements I could deal with. That was God’s will. He had a plan for me and I have reached out to help other people with cancer. However, being sexually molested by a family member…someone you love and who is supposed to protect you- that is a hard pill to swallow. The worse part of this entire situation is that my mother knew and didn’t do anything to protect me.
The memories devastated me. I was in a constant depression, had panic attacks daily, and couldn’t go out into public without having an anxiety attack. I was diagnosed with severe PTSD, anxiety, and depression. This caused me to be unable to work. I was completely unstable and had to give up my teaching job after 16 years. I have worked with psychologists and psychiatrists for the last six years.
Last year, I was informed about a retreat in Utah that helps women who have been molested as children. I went to the four-day retreat in August of 2017 and bonded with all of the women there. We became like a sisterhood. No one can really understand what you are going through unless they have gone through it too. When I came back I felt revitalized and knew I had a great support system to count on. However, PTSD, anxiety, and depression do not just disappear. The memories and night terrors don’t stop. I had many triggers including the whole #metoo movement and hearing about all of the child molestation in Hollywood and by priests. Triggers really set me back and it became difficult for me to ground myself.
I found healing in telling my story so others would know they are not alone. In March of 2018, with a good friend by my side, I did my very first Facebook live. It was made public so everyone could see it. On this live I told my story of abuse, how the retreat saved me, how women and men are not alone in this battle. So many people reached out to me. People from as far away as Australia! Women contacted me and I gave them information about the retreat encouraging them to go. Many women signed up and it made me feel good. I felt like even though I had gone through a horrible experience, I had the ability to help others. I speak openly about my abuse, my mental issues and struggles. I want people to understand what PTSD is and that going through these things does not mean your life is over. I vowed that like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, I too would rise up. I even got a tattoo of a Phoenix on my shoulder with “still I rise” written under it.
When I saw your company’s sweatshirt with the Phoenix and the saying my entire body broke out in goose bumps and I began to cry. I knew I was meant to have that sweatshirt. It held so much meaning for me. I ordered it and it should be arriving shortly. While I was waiting for it I noticed another shirt on your website that I had to have. It says: “I am beautifully broken, perfectly imperfect, beautiful in my flaws. All together, I am a beautiful disaster.” It is my favorite shirt. My life may have had many challenges but they made me stronger and gave me the opportunity to reach out through my experiences and help others. I absolutely love your company and what it stands for. I may be broken, but I’m beautifully broken. I AM A BEAUTIFUL DISASTER!
I do not look at myself as a victim. I am a survivor and a warrior. If my story can help someone else know that they are not alone, it is all worth it. Together we will slay whatever challenges come our way!