‘A heavy door slammed behind me. I begged, ‘I promise I’ll be the best little girl. Please do not leave me here!’ A creepy man said ‘young lady’ and grabbed me by the shoulders.’: Woman details journey battling cancer while in teen religious cult

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“I grew up in South Florida with an ex-military accountant for a father and a mother who was a former police detective and director of a sexual assault treatment center. They’d been married over ten years before I came along and only made it a few more after. Children can do wonders for some marriages. For others, they prove how wrong the partnership was in the first place.

My dad remarried shortly after the divorce, so our days of fishing and nights of watching Davie Crocket were short lived. Cinderella became less of a fairy tale and more of my real life. My step-mom had two daughters and my dad and her were expecting. I went from having my own room, to sharing it with a baby and an older step-sister. Since I technically didn’t live there, all I got was a dresser and the top bunk. I wasn’t allowed to decorate anything. Honestly, I know some inmates who are allowed more liberties with their cell than I was with my room.

Spending time with him consisted of weeding, mowing the lawn, and doing other household chores like painting and repairs. I was more of a tomboy so I didn’t mind, but overtime, it became less of an enjoyment and more fear of failure from the constant pressure of perfection. I never felt like I belonged and was constantly walking on eggshells.

Courtesy of Meaghan Richter

My life at dad’s was night and day from my mom’s place. I could tell my dad’s new family treated me differently because of how they felt about my mother and how I lived when I was with her. My friends refused to come over and referred to his place as the ‘Richter House of Hell.’

My mom’s job at the sexual assault treatment center meant I was exposed to quite a bit at a young age, hearing and seeing things most adults couldn’t handle. Sleeping on the conference table and being watched by employees became a regular thing until I got old enough to be by myself. On the plus side, it taught me to be very independent at a young age. I was constantly educating my friends on the possibilities of walking off with strangers. The downside was the blinders were off, and once that happens as a kid, there is really no longer an illusion of the world being a good place.

Courtesy of Meaghan Richter

I spent a lot of time around older people and started living a fast-paced lifestyle. I was going to the opera, nightclubs and parties, and began drinking before I was even 13. With so much going on in my personal life, it made it hard to concentrate on school. I was constantly using laughter and jokes to distract from the pain of my family situation. This led to bad grades, many detentions, and being cut from all my sports’ teams.

With my step-mom being concerned I would taint her amazing kids, she gave my dad an ultimatum. Needless to say, it was only a few hours before I got the call telling me my belongings were in trash bags on the front porch. Occasionally we would still have lunch or dinner together, but I felt more like his mistress than his actual daughter. I was not allowed to call his house, only his office or cell. He would lie to my stepmom anytime he was with me and made sure to always use a private account when paying for stuff.

By the time high school rolled around, I had unlimited financial resources and drugs, with very little adult supervision. I had been kicked out of one school and dropped out of another and pretty much did whatever I wanted to do with whomever, whenever.

Courtesy of Meaghan Richter

After hearing about me being held up at gunpoint, a bank fraud incident, running away and being tracked down by my mom and the police, my dad contacted me and suggested we get out of town for a few days and go see my Grandma. Even though it had been months since him and I had even spoken, I was excited to get away. My Grandma was the one person who really understood me. This had been the first summer since I was born I hadn’t stayed with her. My dad thought it wasn’t a good idea because of my actions at school.

We landed in St. Louis and headed to my cousin’s house where my Grandma, Grandpa, and Aunt were staying. It was a long drive, so I slept most of the way. My dad told me to leave my stuff in the car, we would get it later. As I entered, a huge heavy door slammed behind me. I looked up and noticed a group of girls standing in front of me. My dad was instantly pulled into another room and I began yelling for him.

I tried to open the door we came through, but the doorknob just kept spinning. There was a man in the corner who grabbed my shoulders and turned me back around. He called me ‘young lady’ in a creepy voice and told me I was going to go with these girls willingly or by force. I began to fight and within an instant they had me down to the ground. By force it was.

I was taken downstairs into a basement where they set up a circle of chairs. They sat me in the center and told me it would be a few hours before my dad said goodbye. They were going to tell me some of the rules. I had a million thoughts and feelings going through my mind, but the main one was: no way in hell was I staying here. These girls looked and sounded so weird. They all dressed and spoke the same and the rules weren’t like anything I had ever heard before. I just wanted my Grandma.

After almost six hours, I saw my dad emerge. As I started to walk towards him, I was intercepted by the group of girls. They held me in a bear hug and made me wait for him to come to me. As he approached, he began to tell me this was my new home and what was best for me. I begged and pleaded, promising to be the best little girl possible. That I could change and to please not leave me here. I tried to grab him, telling him these people were weird and we needed to go. My pleading fell on deaf ears, so I started screaming at the top of my lungs, telling him how much I hated him and I would never forgive him for this until the day I die. I continued to scream and cry, but he turned and walked away. I fell to the ground, begging for him to come back, while trying to catch my breath.

I had barely processed what had happened when the eight girls grabbed me and stood me to my feet. They took me into a long tile hallway and told me to remove my clothing and jewelry; I didn’t even have time to refuse or comply before they put me on the ground and started to rip off my clothing and remove my piercings. I had been a wild teen, but I was still a virgin and had such a body complex that I already had an eating disorder.

I was scared and screaming at the top of my lungs for them to please stop. They put me in the shower, deloused me, made me drink warm medicine, gave me a creepy night gown that covered me from head to toe and Grandma panties, then told me to get on the top bunk and go to sleep. I spent two and a half years enduring physical and mental torture at Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Patterson, Missouri and two and a half at their sister school Palm Lane Academy in Arcadia, Florida.

Courtesy of Meaghan Richter
Courtesy of Meaghan Richter

They were a Military Christian Reform School for troubled teens, and has been proven since their shut down and several lawsuits that they were a cult. They would tell us repeatedly we were the rejects of the world and our parents didn’t even want us and knew everything that was happening. After hearing it so many times and being there for so long without being rescued, you begin to believe it is true.

We were constantly being brainwashed in their barbaric teachings of religious and racist beliefs. Brother Bob and Betty Wills, their daughter Debbie and son-in-law Sam, along with former students that were recruited to stay on as staff, would enforce horrific punishments and rituals upon us and force us to inflict them upon each other as well. They would hold girls down in ice baths, ant piles, make girls wear ugly dresses, and have the boys moo at the girls that were on the diet. Anything that could bring you to your lowest level of self-worth or rock bottom, as they liked to say.

Courtesy of Meaghan Richter

We were forced to memorize three verses of the Bible a day, until completing entire chapters. Corporal punishment was inflicted and any talk of mental illness or anything outside of their teachings would be cause for consequences. All phone calls were incoming, limited and monitored. There were giant barbed wire fences, locked doors, alarms and motion sensors set at night. We were teenagers in the middle of the Ozarks with no way out and nowhere to run and for the few that did, it didn’t end well.

Courtesy of Meaghan Richter
Courtesy of Meaghan Richter

With talks of a sister school opening up a few hours away from my home, I made it my goal to get selected with the nine other girls. I thought Palm Lane would be better, but I was completely wrong. The rules were worse and with so few students, every little thing was under a microscope and brought into question. I was always anxious and living in fear.

After being at Palm Lane a few months, I began experiencing intense pain and vomiting with hives all over my body. This went on for a few weeks before a staff member took me to the local ER. The doctor recommended I go to a better hospital for further testing. Thankfully, the staff and my dad agreed and I was able to go home for a few days. Unfortunately, they didn’t find anything; I was punished for faking and had to get back to my normal routine. This was hard enough normally, let alone while being covered in hives and vomiting.

Courtesy of Meaghan Richter

There were a lot of humiliating moments being sick, but one of my grossest and weirdest was in PE. We had to run fives miles and I was vomiting profusely while the owner’s dog ran after me, trying to eat my vomit. It was so disgusting and horrible. I felt like I was in a horror movie. After enduring months of this, my parents started scheduling testing for me. The drive was just a little over two hours, so one of them would pick me up in the morning, I would do a prep in the car, drop me off at the hospital or doctor’s, go to work, come back when I was done, and then back to hell I went.

I hated the tests, I hated being poked and prodded in the most invasive places, and I hated being called a liar. It was so hard being told I was faking and seeking attention when I knew something was wrong. The preps were horrible and made me feel even worse than I already did. I had to drink laxatives, phosphate, go days without eating and drink gallons of white chalk. There were so many times I believed I would die there and end up in the trash pit.

I spent my entire senior year doing colonoscopies, barium enemas, barium x-rays, CT-scans, and endoscopies, but every test was negative. The pain had gotten so unbearable, a local surgeon thought it would be best to just remove my appendix, so instead of going to graduation I went into surgery.

Courtesy of Meaghan Richter

My appendix turned out to be fine, but it had a large cancerous carcinoid tumor growing on it. It was extremely rare and they didn’t even have a medical code for it yet. The hormones from when I would ovulate would react with the hormone, causing me the pain and hives. Besides other sides effects, I still get hives today when my body gets weak and I have to take a steroid pack and an injection to help it go away.

It took a very long time for me to even realize my story had value or my cancer journey mattered to anyone. I spent so long just trying to survive, I didn’t even really process how difficult things were and how truly terrified I was for my life. I didn’t have friends and family cheering me on, I had the cruelest people ever making me feel like a disgusting, worthless human being and they humiliated me for being sick. They brought me down to my lowest self worth and made me feel completely ashamed, like I deserved all the pain and sickness. Most people begin their journey when they are diagnosed with cancer, but I felt relief when I was diagnosed – they finally had to believe me.

There is so much that makes me unique, complex , and very misunderstood. Not only have I escaped a cult and survived cancer, but I am a fantastic mom of two, I have had three spine surgeries and part of my skull removed, and I am a Mental Motivational Trauma Superhero that has founded Meg’s Law of Positivity. A movement that has allowed me to use the trauma and pain I have endured to teach others how to strive for life full of positivity and happiness while they are enduring and/or overcoming physical and/or emotional pain. I spent so long feeling alone, like no one understood, and I don’t want anyone else to feel this way. This is why I share my story.”

Courtesy of Meaghan Richter
Courtesy of Meaghan Richter

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Meaghan Richter of Fort Lauderdale, FL. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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