‘This is MY Fight Song’

by Donna M. Brown

Melting Tundra

I know I’ve said this before (and I’m sure some are really tired of hearing it); but, it’s part of my story and without it, the rest of me just doesn’t make sense.

My world crumbled when my sister was found dead in her bed in 2007. She left three children behind. Shortly after I was divorced (22 years); my ex-husband found my best childhood friend dead in her car on the side of the road; my father was diagnosed and shortly thereafter died of pancreatic cancer; my 4-year-old nephew was crushed by a truck in front of his mother; my brother committed suicide and my mother went crazy. This spring an ex-lover I shoved out of my life of grief was hit and killed by a car. He used to tell me I made his life worth living. That kind of sums it up with a lot of regular life stuff shoved in the cracks. A couple of months ago I was diagnosed with sebaceous/mybomian gland cancer and underwent three major surgeries. In the last month I have had two cataract surgeries. This week my mother’s beloved nephew died.

Oh, did I mention I am a full-time caregiver for a person I adore who suffers from dementia and is a brittle diabetic? (That’s a crucial part of the story too.) Regardless of how I have treated the situation, this part is not an afterthought. It is my reality and I have to face it.

It might also be noteworthy that I have a very demanding full-time professional career. I have an office at home where I work full-time and care for my mother full time. All of that takes up about 300 percent of my time. I’m fat. I’m sad. I’m lonely. I just keep trudging on.

It’s safe to say I have been “frozen” since June 2007. I have only about half lived life. I have worked from home since then hiding from the world and just trying to keep it all together.

I had a meltdown of epic proportions yesterday in the ER when they wouldn’t keep my mother. It’s a long story. Huh, imagine that. They wouldn’t keep my mother. Go figure.

I really had arrived. Something has to change. The few days of my life I have left just can’t whither away while I remain subservient to the needs of everyone else. I don’t have it in me to neglect their needs. It’s a dilemma.

I went to sleep last night — frankly, drunk (no, I don’t drink my problems away, but I sure did last night) — spent, defeated. Yes, I had arrived.

I have a pact I made with the Lord. I won’t go into it here, but if you would like to read about it you can visit my WordPress blog. It’s called “Self Help Heaven” (because I really need a lot of that). I woke up this morning with clarity. I remember standing in front of the doctor and wringing my hands in the air, “I have arrived. Do you get it? I am here.” Jesus.

This morning I can imagine those words reverberating all the way up to heaven. I’m pretty sure the Lord did a double-take and came running stat. All the guardian angels must have come to see what was going on because together they worked out an answer.

I’m moving out of the tundra where I have been frozen for nearly a decade and into the light of life.

I am moving my home office to the center of our sweet little town. See, I was once our community’s and our state’s chamber of commerce executive director. I took 220 people on a business trip to China and helped hundreds of others get there too. I was an award winning journalist for local, state and national publications for 30 years. I served on the airport board, headed the historical society, chaired the organization of our city’s first business expo, started an annual festival to honor our farmers and ranchers, brought NBC’s Three Wishes to our little town that benefited with literally MILLIONS of dollars in donations and millions of dollars in publicity from the one hour show for our beautiful community — the gateway to some of our country’s most fabulous national parks. I organized a party in honor of our state’s centennial celebration in a ghost town 60 miles from nowhere. A THOUSAND PEOPLE CAME. (Of course you realize all of this is for my benefit and not yours.I think you get the point.)

Oh, and while doing all of that I raised four amazing children. Yeah, there it is again — the afterthought (and the most important aspect of my life).

So, today, I am sliding off this land of frozen sorrows and regrets and moving back into a warmer place. I will “lunch” with old friends who heard I had gone crazy and haven’t dared ask how I’m doing. I will go to the gym. I will attend social functions and maybe volunteer a little here and there.

I will not make my mom move. This is her home and she has been through a lot. I will begin to establish my life separate from hers and start the search for two reliable aids who can offer her care while I have a life for eight hours a day.

I will come home refreshed instead of spent to offer her my love and attention. I will love on my eight grandchildren with the energy I save up and help my children when I can.

Yeah, I know it won’t be as perfect as it sounds. But, damn. Isn’t it time to dig out my summer clothes?

Bringing All Things to Your Remembrance

No Greater Gift

Donna M. Brown

Donna M. Brown

This morning I opened the door to the laundry room to find two plates of taco salad (with forks) sitting on top of the washer. I slammed the door shut and had a good belly laugh.

What’s so funny about that? Nothing, really. It’s all part of one of those tragedies that actually moves you to laughter. My mom, 76, was feeding our dinner last night to her imaginary homeless man in the basement and apparently he has a friend.

For whatever reason — or, reasons — my mother’s sense of reasoning has left her. She replaced it with a world of imaginary people who keep her company. She prefers their company to ours now. She understands them better and they seem to understand her.

I stood in the hallway for a minute, recovering, shaking my head and grinning. That’s when it hit me: “How very like her to feed the homeless people in the basement.”

My grandmother, Donna Hanna Kelson Morgan, died when I was just 12 years old; yet, her level of compassion for other people was such that it still impacts my life every single day. My mother carried on that tradition.

John 14:26 -“But the Comforter, [which is] the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

Although my mother suffers from Stage 4 dementia, she has not forgotten that the Lord wants her to love and give and share.

I have memories of my mother (from my very early childhood) taking care of an elderly lady and her dog who lived across the street; feeding those who were hungry; sheltering those that needed a place to live; fighting for little children who were in desperate need of an advocate to help them get their most basic needs met; comforting college students as who suffered from terminal homesickness as a local university’s student health director; and, running to the aid of community members needing allergy shots, a ride or a hand up.

Although she cannot remember what she had for breakfast — or if she had breakfast at all — her heart remembers what was instilled in her by pure example, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

My Story of Survival

Recovery from Sebaceous/Meibomian Gland Carcinoma

Donna M. Brown

Donna M. Brown

The first time I remember noticing what I believed was a “sty” in my eye was around December 2014. It could have been there much longer, but I gave it very little thought. It looked like a small pimple on my bottom eyelid. It wasn’t painful, it wasn’t even that noticeable to anyone but me.

In June 2015, I noticed the small bump had actually grown. It still didn’t hurt, but it began to rub on my eyeball and it was beginning to make me feel unattractive.

Recovery from sebaceous/meibomian gland carcinoma

Recovery from sebaceous/meibomian gland carcinoma

IMAGE 1. This photo depicts the growth on my eye when I finally decided to have it checked out. It looks far worse here than I ever remember it being.

I visited my optometrist, Dr. Scott Albrecht in Cedar City, Southern Utah Vision Care, and asked him for some kind of magical cure. I have complete faith in him and he was the first person I thought of when I finally decided “this thing has to go.” He attempted to drain it, but realized that the process would be a little more invasive than he was equipped to handle. He referred me to a local surgeon/ophthalmologist – Dr. Clinton Duncan, Mountain Eye Institute — and recommended I have it removed. He warned me the procedure could involve a stitch on my lid.

As Dr. Duncan examined the bump he commented, “That’s a pretty impressive cyst.” I agreed to a simple surgery right there in his office in early June.

IMAGE 2. The wound required six stitches and entailed a far deeper cut than any of us had anticipated. I heard the surgeon comment to his nurse, “let’s put this in a sample dish and send it to the lab.”

I appreciated that he was being overly cautious, but didn’t give his comment much thought until I returned about 10 days later to have the stitches removed and he remarked, “I’m still waiting for results from the pathologist to see whether or not that growth was cancerous.”

Brandi Messerly, Me, London Solomon
Brandi Messerly, Me, London Solomon

It was the first time I remembered hearing the word, “cancer.” The notion seemed ridiculous. Again, I appreciated his thorough approach, but gave it very little thought.

On July 3 I was in Idaho on my way to a fun-filled vacation with my youngest daughter when I got the call. “I’m so sorry to have to tell you … ”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He was so somber, so sorry. He sent the name of the cancer via text message at my request: “Sebaceous/meibomian gland cancer.”

It is never a good idea to Google the name of the disease. That night, all alone in my tent in Victor, Idaho, I braved the unknown and researched my newly-diagnosed crisis on the Internet. It was the first time I remember feeling pure terror. In one short conversation I had gone from jamming to my road music on the highway of life to facing my own mortality.

The cancer is rare; and, it is known to be aggressive, destructive and in some cases deadly. It is entirely possible that the decisions of my optometrist and my ophthalmologist saved my life. It was also possible that my decision to ignore the growth for months and months had proved to be a life-threatening risk.

Within one week, I was in a chair in St. George, UT facing Dr. Bhupendra Patel. My ophthalmologist had assured me he was the best in the business. He educated me on Dr. Patel’s experience, his position as Moran Eye Center Director of Oculoplastic Surgery and of his association with the University of Utah Medical Center. I was assured he was, “The best.”

Dr. Patel was noticeably cautious in the words he chose to reassure me. It became more and more apparent that my situation was extremely serious.

As a professor and revered colleague of other spectacular professionals at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Dr. Patel called his team of specialists together. The following week I entered the Huntsman Cancer Institute for a consultation with Robert Andtbacka, M.D., C.M., an associate professor of surgical oncology and Marianne Bowling, APRN, FNP-C, a nurse practitioner of surgical oncology.

I was immediately struck by the nature of Huntsman Cancer Institute. The professionals there knew I was terrified. They anticipated my questions and without offering false hope, they explained my three pending surgeries and assured me there had been significant communication between some of the top specialists in the country to assure my cancer was treated swiftly and appropriately. The treatment involved three Utah medical facilities including the University of Utah Medical Center, the Huntsman Cancer Institute and the Moran Eye Center.

On July 30 my first stop was at the UofU Department of Radiology/Nuclear Medicine for lymphoscintigraphy. The idea was to inject nuclear dye around the bottom of my left eye, wait a few hours, then perform an imaging process that would trace the drainage patterns from my eye area to my lymph nodes.

On July 31 I entered the Huntsman Cancer Institute where Dr. Andtbacka was to remove a node to have it tested for signs the cancer had metastasized. At the same time, Glen M. Bowman, M.D. Dr. Bowen. clinical director of the Multidisciplinary Cutaneous Oncology Program would collaborate in the process by performing a Mohs surgery around my eye. The process involved removing small cuts of skin and having them analyzed for cancer cells by a specialized pathologist. He would cut as much as he had to until he achieved a cut with clear, cancer free borders.

From the moment I entered the department, every professional there treated me with kindness and respect. I was flanked by my darling daughter, London, and my daughter-in-law Brandi to keep me sane (and entertained).

The collaboration was flawless.

IMAGE 3. This photograph was taken shortly after I came out of the Mohs surgery. The amount of skin taken from my eyelid was incredible; yet, it was very small compared to what so many of the patients with sebaceous carcinoma endure. Although my eyelid had been completely destructed, we were elated with the result.

I don’t remember much of my trip to the Moran Eye Center. I do remember the kind and patient voice of Dr. Patel arranging for the reconstruction of my eye. Even in my medicated state I was amazed at the smooth  transition. They had torn my eyelid apart and now they were going to build me a new one? I had my doubts.

IMAGE 4. Not only did Dr. Patel repair the damage, he built an entirely new bottom eyelid for me complete with lashes. As I came out of my drug-induced stupor, I could literally hear the relief in his voice as he explained to my daughters the procedure, the severity and the relative simplicity compared to what I could have endured. He was genuinely relieved — and so I was.

The three surgeries took place on Friday. I returned the following Wednesday for what I feared could have been a death sentence, or at least a sentence to the trauma of cancer treatments too many had already suffered. Marianne Bowling was to deliver the pathology report. If the cancer had traveled, I was in for a long, long journey.

The lymph nodes were pronounced clear. Together she and Dr. Andtbacka delivered the news. I was stunned. I had been secretly planning my slow demise in a bubbling cloud of doubt and fear for weeks. I knew how critical it was to remain positive, but in the dark of night fear finds its way even to the strongest and most faithful hearts. It had been ever so difficult for me to accept that my life could be in danger; however, the realization that I had been spared was even a little harder to believe.

IMAGE 5. depicts my eye after one week. I could not believe how it had healed!

THREE WEEKS. This image depicts my eye just three weeks after surgery. In another month it will be absolutely flawless. In fact, Dr. Patel might very well have built an eyelid that was better than the one I had to begin with.

His surgical skills, his warm bedside manner, his kind and professional office staff and a surgical team that rivals any super hero convention turned what could have been a devastating experience into one of hope, rewarded faith and renewed spirit.

While undergoing my procedures and follow-up, I stayed an the University of Utah Patient and Family Housing. The facility is absolutely amazing and I cannot begin to imagine the struggle and expense I might have been through without the center.

My experience was one of hope and spiritual, mental, emotional and physical healing.

If you take nothing else away from this, please remember:

A. Do not EVER ignore any kind of growth on your body no matter how harmless it might seem. Please, just have it checked out. If something seems out of place, it probably is. Had I waited much longer, my story could have ended much differently. My particular type of cancer is famous for masquerading as many other minor disorders.

B. One of the most common reasons for people to delay medical care is financial hardship. Dr. Patel and his team are about healing. At my last visit he said to me, “I want the people to come to me and I will find a way for them to get the medical treatment they need.”

My heart is full and my gratitude is overwhelming. This surgical team could be practicing anywhere in the world — and has turned down many offers elsewhere — to practice in Utah. Because they are here in my home state, my path to them was swift and I was spared (in style no less).

Promises, Promises: The Lord’s Got My Back

by Donna M. Brown

Fear’s icy fingers gripped my throat when the nurse’s aide pointed down a long, long corridor at the Huntsman Cancer Center toward my destination. It meant walking reverently through a waiting room where bald-headed little people sat wrapped in blankets and gowns wavering as if at any minute they might fall.

So much suffering, so much pain, so much looming death and heartache. It did not occur to me at the time to think, “So much healing going on here.”

In the Beginning

Just weeks ago I went to my eye doctor to drain an irritating sty on my left eye. It had been there for at least six months. I noticed it growing and decided it was time for this thing to go. He referred me to another doctor to have it surgically removed because “sometimes these things get harder if you wait too long.” His referral may very well have been a life-saving measure.

The ophthalmologist/surgeon poked and prodded just a little. “Yup, you’re in the right place,” he said slapping his knee. We can take care of this right now, or we can have you come back another time.

I said, “Git ‘er done.”

“Wow. This is an impressive cyst. It’s very large,” he said when he began cutting as I lay in terror gripping the handles of the chair with both hands. I could see the scalpel come toward my eye and immediately regretted my decision.

I heard him tell his assistant, “Put this in a sample dish. I’m going to send it to a pathologist.”

My mind, frozen with fear of the needle headed toward my eyelid, I remember registering his statement. “A pathologist? Give me a break. Why would he send that to a pathologist?”

Six stitches later I was out the door and finally free of that obnoxious little white bump that had begun to scrape my actual eyeball. It healed quickly. I returned to have the stitches removed. My daughter rode along with me. It was the first time I had heard him utter the C-word.

“This looks good. It looks really good,” he said. I agreed, he had done a wonderful job of repairing a sizeable slice from my bottom eyelid. Then he said it, “I’ve been waiting to see what the pathologist comes back with about this – whether or not it’s cancerous.”

If there is one thing I know how to do, it’s play it cool. My exterior was saying, “Hmmm. Cancer, you really think that’s a possibility, huh?”

On the inside I was screaming, “What the hell are you talking about? Cancer?”

He nonchalantly commented, “The pathologist has forwarded it on to a specialist. Now, I don’t want you to think that means it’s cancer. We just have to wait and see. Two weeks, at the most.”

Again, with my unruly insides, “Two fucking weeks?” (Let me apologize now. There are simply times when no other word will do.) “You want me to sit around wondering for two fucking weeks if I have CANCER?”

I politely thanked him and left.

I rationalized the fact that he was being overly cautious. Cancer was not even a possibility. Who gets cancer in their eyelid for Christsake? I let it go.

I was somewhere near Blackfoot Idaho when his phone call came. I was on my way to a fun-filled adventure with my daughter in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this … “

“You SUCK,” was my outward response. I spent another five minutes explaining that he didn’t really suck, it was just that …

He texted the words with which I was about to become intimately familiar: “sebaceous/miebomian gland carcinoma.”

I was driving across a reservation and whirled into the nearest casino where I promptly dumped $100 cold hard cash into the Wheel of Fortune – you know, the “WHEEL of FORTUNE” slot machine (as if somehow that would teach him for telling ME I had cancer). I pondered exactly what that meant. My next move was to copy and paste the foreign words into my smart phone’s Google search engine.

Big mistake.

“Sebaceous gland carcinoma (SGC) is a HIGHLY MALIGNANT AND POTENTIALLY LETHAL TUMOR that arises from meibomian glands of the tarsal plate, from glands of Zeis or from sebaceous glands of the caruncle, eye brow or facial skin (1). SGC arises from sebaceous material secreting glands and are known to be occasionally multicentric. These tumors are reported to behave aggressively with the tendency to metastasize early with higher mortality rates especially if there is a delay in the diagnosis … “

“Oh,” I thought, “you mean like when you think you have a damn STY in your eye and ignore it for six months?”

And so it Begins

Within a week I was sitting in the office of Dr. Bhupendra Patel, M.D., chief of oculoplasty at the University of Utah Medical Center and the Moran Eye Center.

“No sweat. We’ll run on over to the St. George Surgical Center and carve this problem away,” I told myself. But, no.

I would need surgery, sooner than later, at the University of Utah Medical Center, the Huntsman Cancer Center AND the Moran Eye Center.

“This is not the time when I call my colleagues and politely ask them to work you in,” he explained to me and my brother, Doug, who had accompanied me to the visit for moral support. “This is the time when I get out my big professor stick and say, ‘Get this done.’”

My head began spinning.

Because the cancer is very rare, Dr. Patel explained, “Anyone within 1,500 miles of here who has this kind of cancer will eventually end up at my doorstep.” Somehow I had ended up in a small Utah office with one of the world’s leaders in oculoplasty surgery. Somehow, it still did not exactly feel like my luck day.

Consultation is Not Comforting

My sweet daughter-in-law Brandi accompanied me to my first consultation at the Huntsman Cancer Center. We laughed and joked and had dinner together the night before; but, the moment we stepped through the doors, “Shit got real.”

The kindness and consideration at this world-class facility conveniently located in my own home state was overwhelming. In the examination room I was instructed to put on a gown. I was feeling pretty solid until a nice nurse’s aide offered, “Would you like a blanket?” I declined and she stepped out.

“Oh. My. God. Brandi, they are treating me like a cancer patient. I am going to die.”

Crying Helps

I arrived home late that night and I had clearly moved straight from the “denial” stage of grief to “anger.” I lashed out at my children, my life and even the laundry piled on my bed. The next few days were a blur of anger, defeat, pure fear and resentment. It was nobody’s fault and that did not help.

Worst Decade Ever

I am 52 years old. I have successfully survived five decades and I can say without reservation that this decade has been the worst. It began with the sudden, unexpected death of my sister in 2007. Not long after, I suffered a bitter divorce ending 22 years of marriage. My ex-husband (a police officer) found my best childhood friend dead in her car on the side of the road. My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died three weeks later. I’m grateful for that because I am not sure he would have survived the death of my 5-year-old nephew who was hit and killed by a slow-rolling truck as his young mother helplessly lunged for him. Six months later, my younger brother shot himself in the head. My mother lost her mind and dementia set in. I had to sell her home and move her in with me.

For 3.5 years I worked in a highly political and controversial position for my local Chamber of Commerce. I was Utah’s Chamber of Commerce President. I spent the year after my sister’s death and during my divorce arranging for 220 people to travel to China for 10 days on an international business trip. I was tired.

It was during a local chamber luncheon that I first heard God speak to me. The lights were low and I sat at a round, crowded table fighting to keep my head from falling into my salad. The mayor was speaking and suddenly everything went silent and I clearly heard:

“It’s time. You take care of your family and I will take care of you.”

That day, I knew I had received a commandment and a promise. I did not dare ignore either. I gave a 30-day notice with no inkling of how I would survive or help take care of my four growing children.

I had no idea the Lord was preparing me for the deaths and struggles that were to follow.

I moved to my family’s farm home in the middle of the Utah Western Desert and retreated. No money. No energy. No gumption to move forward. I survived and that is all.

Wherefore Didst Thou Doubt?

On the day my niece’s little darling Kole was killed, I was panicked to just get to my family gathering hundreds of miles away. I drove 45 miles to Cedar City, pulled into a turning lane on 200 North and Main when my car’s transmission literally dropped.

I got the car moved to safety and walked to a car lot. I prayed for two blocks. I had to buy a car and I had to have one fast. The nice men at the car lot were sorry – but there was no way in hell anyone would give me a loan. I borrowed a dear friend’s car for a day. The ignition switch broke just after I parked it in front of my home in Enterprise (I had moved there from Beryl when our family property’s well dried up leaving my beautiful vegetable garden to wilt and turn to dust). Another expense and still no way to reach my grieving family.

A young, tender teenage boy and one of my daughter’s closest friends died at the same time we lost or little Kole. Liberty and I went to the local funeral together in my friend’s freshly-repaired car. As we sat and waited for the teenage boy’s funeral to begin, the weight of my world and everyone else’s crashed in on me. I had to get to my family hundreds of miles away in the Utah Basin. I left the church, climbed in to my friend’s car and headed up the canyon on State Route 18. I was frantic, crying, screaming. I was done.

I watched trees swoosh by me through watery eyes when suddenly I began to think of a bible story and calmness overcame me. It was one of my favorites when Christ’s disciples were on the boat in the sea and the angry wind blew crashing waves against their vessel. Christ appeared to them on the water and they were afraid.

Christ shouted to them, “Take courage! It is I.  Don’t be afraid.”

Peter asked the Lord to take him onto the water. The faithful disciple took a step. “But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘Oh ye of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind stopped … “

I heard the words, loud and clear, “Wherefore dost thou doubt?”

I remembered then that the Lord had made a promise to me. I was trying with every ounce of strength I could muster to care for my family – my whole family through a deep, dark period of grief.  I knew what I had to give was meager, but that I was giving all I had. I turned my car around and returned to our young friend’s funeral.

As I climbed the steps to the churchhouse I received a call: “We have decided we can work out financing for your new car.” I reached my family in our horrible time of grieving the loss of yet another tiny soul we adored.

‘Now I Remember, Lord’

The past week has been a roller coaster of emotion. To face one’s own mortality is a grave event and I cannot say I was handling it with grace and finesse.

On Sunday I was wringing my hands and silently praying when I was reminded in no uncertain terms of the promise the Lord made to me the day I left the only world I had ever known and stepped into the deep abyss: “You take care of your family, and I WILL take care of you.”

I felt a loving poke and heard it again, this time a soft whisper, “Wherefore dost thou doubt?”

Tomorrow I will embark on a journey I would have never sought to take. On Thursday they will inject nuclear dye into my face to help them track any wandering cancer cells that might have begun to wiggle their way to a final resting place in some dark chasm of my body. On Friday they will remove lymph nodes from my face, carve off my eyelid and attempt to repair the damage.

Today, I do not doubt. I know without one shred of uncertainty that I have fulfilled my promise to the Lord and he remembers the promise he made to me.

Navigating the Mental Maze of Sexual Abuse

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress entitled, “Who I am Today: Navigating the Mental Maze of Sexual Abuse,” Chapter 3.

Donna Messerly-Brownby Donna M. Brown

The mental maze suffered by victims of sexual abuse is extremely complex (a gross understatement, I know). If you are a victim of sexual abuse, your maze is unique. You created it. It is ultimately up to you to solve it; however, you don’t have to solve it alone. This journey will be whatever you decide it will be. Some paths will be dark and lead to eminent danger. Others will be bright and will lead you to self-enlightenment and joy. You have probably already explored many paths. You know which paths are which. You may not know how to find positive alternatives to those ugly roads littered with quick sand and mines. Whether you are at the beginning of your maze or trapped somewhere in the middle, if you gather the right tools to help you through you will have a much better chance of escaping.

Matthew 7:13-14

13 Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and
broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Sexual abuse, also referred to as sexual violence, can trigger a complicated series of mental, emotional, psychological and physical reactions. There is also a wide variety of lingering external complications that can result from sexual abuse. Family members, friends, teachers, co-workers, and peers often react to subtle and blatant changes in an individual once the abuse has occurred (whether the violation is a terrifying one-time experience with a complete stranger, or a lifetime of perpetual abuse by a perpetrator the victim knows and maybe even loves). Unfortunately, some of those changes do not occur until a victim fully realizes the impact of his or her abuse. It can literally take decades for an individual to face the trauma. Some people never do.

A Word About Mazes

Why do I call this a mind maze? Many years after my abuse ended, it occurred to me that I was regularly stumbling into mental blocks and walls steadfastly built by my protective brain as a result of my personal experience. Once I accepted that my perceptions really were skewed, and that I often engaged in what I now know to be “wrong thinking,” I found myself retracing my steps to determine how I got lost in such a complicated maze of lies, truths, anger, loss, resentment, faith, hope, survival, and fear. I asked myself the following:

  1. How did I get here from there?
  2. How can I identify and follow the right path to get to where I need to be?
  3. Where do I need to be anyway? Where do I want to be?

wiseGEEK Online offers clear answers to common questions and gives this definition of a maze:

“A maze is a complex structure with a series of interconnecting pathways . . . It is viewed as a puzzle that must be solved, and the solver must work his or her way from the entrance to an exit, or another location. Getting through a maze can be difficult, leading to the use of the word as a slang term for a complex process.”

The practice of building mazes and solving them is centuries old. Mazes have played a role in developing spiritual insight. Some cultures have actually used mazes as a form of torture (go figure, huh?). Sometimes mazes are entertaining for the brain; and, mazes have been used for physical sport and recreation.

Regardless of how or why a maze was created, who do you think has the best chance of solving the mind-boggling puzzle? That’s right, it’s the creator. Whether you realize it or not, you have created your own mind maze. You are the most likely person to solve it because you and you only possess the map to find your way through it and the keys to unlock its secret doors.

If you were taken to a dense forest and dropped against your will into a maze of massive walls, unbreakable blocks, physical threats and mental tricks, you would no-doubt struggle desperately to find your way alone, particularly if you had no tools to help you. In such a situation you could suffer in silence and spend long, dark days searching for a way out. You might even find a comfortable corner within the maze and simply decide to stay where you know you are temporarily safe in the dark and quiet of walls that trap you, but protect you. Are you getting the metaphor here? If you are trapped in such a maze and don’t even know it, you might never look for an exit and be content to live a life of misery and isolation.

Ah, but, what if you were to shout out for help? What if others trapped in the maze followed the sound of your voice and found you? If you were in the company of others who had been scanning the layout of the maze much longer than you had, you very well might gain from their experiences. Everyone’s mind maze is different, but in the case of victims of sexual abuse they are often very similar.

In my new book I am going to share some a-maze-ing secrets that will help you find your way through the dark paths your brain created as a result of sexual abuse. Mazes symbolize the twisted paths of life and fate.

10 Gifts I Can’t Live Without

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Luke 6:38

Donna Messerly-Brown

by Donna Messerly-Brown

There is something very empowering about surviving the unthinkable (over and over), then learning you really can laugh again — and that’s okay.  This year I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the gifts I’ve already received (and it’s not even Christmas yet). You know, they’re the kind you can’t take back (and wouldn’t even if you could). My favorite gifts fit perfectly because those who gave them to me know my size, my style, my potential and are in tune with my needs and desires.  Who says it’s better to give than to receive?  Today I’d like to tell you about 10 of my favorite gifts — gifts that I, frankly, could not live without.

1. The atonement. Every day for the past month I have pondered this gift from Heavenly Father and His beloved son.  I came to understand the power of the atonement (I mean really understand it) about five years ago.  I was struggling with forgiveness, forgiveness for myself and for some individuals who had hurt me.  I found blame for my experience laying right at my own feet.  I knew how important it was for me to forgive others and so I scooped up all of the responsibility and swallowed it down until I was so full of guilt and sorrow that I could not move.  I prayed for help.  It occurred to me suddenly that I no longer had to take the sins of the world upon myself because that was Christ’s job.  Was I presuming to be more powerful than Christ?  Would I really deny the glory of his gift by trying to take over his job?  Christ suffered for the sins of man so I didn’t have too.  I really loved unwrapping that gift.  Trust Jesus.

2. One last year with my father.  Everyone receives the gift of parents.  Some of us would occasionally like to return them for a nicer set (you know who you are).  The gift of my parents really was the gift that kept on giving.  It’s still giving today.  My father was a funny, sensitive caring man with a curiosity that could not be stifled.  He loved nature, animals, adventure and most importantly he love me!  My father made mistakes — who doesn’t?  But in the end he had the foresight to share his thoughts with me and candidly shared the life lessons he had learned.  About one year before my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer I moved to the valley in which he lived.  My home was about seven miles from his and for the first time in my life I got to explore my personal relationship with him.  I remember the first time he called me on the telephone that year.  The moment I heard his voice I was sure there was something wrong.  I was the one who called him.  He never called me.  Yet, that day our relationship had progressed.  He simply wanted to talk.  My youngest daughter spent hours at his house riding horses and teasing with Grandpa.  Oh how grateful I am that the Lord led me to my childhood home to spend quality time with Daddy.  The night before he left us Dad and I talked for a couple of hours about his pending departure.  We laughed and discussed and did our best to accept his fate.  I held his hand until the spirit left his body less than 48 hours later.  He knew I loved him and I knew he loved me.  What an amazing gift.

3. Time well spent with Mom.  About six months ago I helped move my mom from her home in Phoenix, Ariz. to my home in Utah under extremely difficult circumstances.  She had become ill and (I thought) frail.  We could not leave her alone any longer.  Mamma hated leaving her life and did not ask to exchange it for a life with me.  It was the only thing we could do.  Every day we meet in the hall and greet each other with a hug and a kiss.  Occasionally we dream of ripping each others’ throats out.  How lucky I am to have an opportunity to hear her life story, to ask her important questions, to tap her vast knowledge and to return a lifetime of favors by taking care of her for a change.

4. My children. I have four amazing children (all of them are lucky they lived to adulthood).  They are beautiful — that goes without saying.  The lessons I have learned from them are the true gifts I received when each one came into my life.  They are all strong, independent, passionate people who have taught me to be patient with myself and others.  From them I have learned humility.  I have developed survival skills that would make the battle front in a major war seem like a walk in the park.  I have experienced the deepest love imaginable and the deepest pain that helped shape the caverns of my heart.  Two of them have blessed me with perfect little grandchildren and the satisfaction of knowing my children come to know me better with every passing day.

5. My friends. I know, I know, this is getting to be a little like a cliche; but it’s true. Without my lifelong friends I would be missing huge chunks of my personality.  The gift of friendship can last a lifetime.  My friends have given me laughter, perspective, joy and often times a good, swift kick in the proverbial butt when I needed it.  Come to think of it, that might have been the most beneficial of all the perks that come with the gift of friendship.

6. Auntie. I am grateful for all of my aunts and uncles.  I have known from birth there is a place on earth where I belong and it is evident when I am with extended family (some extended family, heh, heh).  One auntie in particular has been my mentor, surrogate mother and friend all of my life.  She has rescued me from sure self-destruction, welcomed me into her home always and has never hesitated to point me to a better road than the road I am on.  She accepts me for who I am and simply shakes her head with a grin when I insist “I know what I’m doing here.”  Our relationship is one of my most treasured prizes.  That gift can never be replaced.

7. Ceramic figurine. On my dresser even as I write is a beautiful little ceramic figurine — a girl with a blue dress and auburn pony tail.  I often put it away for fear the treasure will be taken from me.  I always bring it out again so I can admire it and remember the love that brought her to me.  My paternal grandmother was an artist.  She made the little figurine in her ceramic shop on Adams Ave. in Ogden.  My paternal grandmother and maternal grandmother were friends.  The little figurine was a gift from one to the other.  I am my maternal grandmother’s namesake and am drawn inexplicably to her (even in death).  I loved to visit both grandmothers, but probably would have lived with my maternal grandma given the choice.  I had been visiting Grandma Morgan for days and when it came time for me to leave, I was being rushed into the car and began crying uncontrollably.  Grandma disappeared for a moment and returned carrying the figurine.  She explained its origin to me and then pressed it into my tiny palm.  I remember it as clear as day, “There now, don’t you cry. Take this little girl to keep you company.”  I must have realized its significance even then. How in the world did it survive 45 years and countless moves and come to be standing on my dresser today?  It is a constant gift of my grandmothers’ love for and connection to me.  Even if it were gone, its meaning would live forever (and that is the real gift).

8. Communication.  I am blessed with the gift of communication, a wordsmith if you will.  Each of us has a talent and the responsibility to develop it.  It truly is a gift and mine has brought me endless joy, money, friends and so much more.

9. Chicken quilt.  Throughout her short adult life my sister dragged the pieces of a chicken wall hanging to home after home.  She loved that fabric and knew I had an affinity for chicken decor (yeah, go figure).  Her life was a whirlwind of artistic expression and she threatened every time I saw her to finish that wall hanging one day.  It bore a significance to her I could not understand.   In the end of May 2007 she presented the beautiful little wall hanging to me.  She lived in Northern California and had carried it with her on a visit to Utah.  She created a fabric inset and on it she wrote a precious note of her love for me.  Our relationship was volatile at best, but I’m sure now that was because of the intense love we shared for one another.  One week later, at the age of 46, she died.  She had said to me what she needed to say and that gift is a treasure I will hold forever.  Not long after her sudden and unexpected passing I was sobbing on my bed.  I felt her say, “Go get the chicken quilt and wrap it around you.  You’ll feel me there.”  I walked into the kitchen and pulled it off the wall.  I slept with it for days and she was right (she always was).  Thank you, Krissy,  for the chicken quilt.

10. My desk.  On Dec. 29, 2011 my little brother took his life.  He was a brilliant, albeit troubled, man full of life and energy.  His mind was an amazing machine.  Not long after he died his family gave me the gift of an exquisite antique desk.  All of my life I had wanted a desk, a place of my own to pore over, work and reflect.  It was not the actual possession, but the representative statement about a commitment to explore the mind that I sought.  Even as I write at this desk, I feel my brother and a deep appreciation for the gifts he has given me — far too many to mention here.  Suffice it to say I have made a mental, heartfelt connection between the desk and my brother who also died at the age of 46 — far too soon.  This beautiful desk embodies his brilliance for me.

I could go on forever, you know, detailing the gifts of my life; but, I’ll stop here because now it’s your turn.  Why don’t you take a little time to ponder the perfect gifts you have received and those who bestowed them upon you.  Write them down and you will come to understand the true significance of those gifts in your life.

Out of the Darkness a Healing Experience

Donna Messerly-Brown

Donna M. Brown

On Nov. 20 I joined family and friends at the Out of the Darkness Walk in Hurricane, Utah. We participated in honor of three lost loved ones. Our team of 11 raised almost $1,500! The week prior to the event was painful due to memories and emotions that had been packed away and suddenly let out into the light. Walking on the amazing Highland Trail at Highland Park in Washington, Utah was a great release. We walked three miles among the beautiful red hills and brilliant desert valley surrounding the park in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to depression and mental illness.

I’m so very proud of the Solomon-Messerly-Glover team. I am grateful to those that supported our fundraising efforts. I pray we can get a walk going in Cedar City, Utah next year to create awareness, raise funds to assist with suicide prevention and create a gathering place for people suffering with grief due to suicide.

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