In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, our co-owner, Amy Ritsema, has shared her journey over the last year since her cancer diagnosis and the ways she has put her mental health first during this challenging time. Check out her story and some of her mental health tips below.
As some of you may know and many may not, on Aug. 21, 2021, I received the phone call nobody ever wants to get and heard these three words: “You have cancer.” After not feeling well for six months, my world was turned upside down in minutes.
After two years of pandemic life, I was looking forward to 2022. It was going to be a year to thrive both personally and professionally. Instead, I was faced with an ovarian cancer journey. A journey no one could have prepared me for physically or mentally.
Over the last nine months, I have been very open and honest about my journey to those around me. With Mental Health Awareness Month upon us, I thought I would share some of the ways I have tried to stay positive through this challenging time in my life. Keep in mind, none of these are scientific — they are simply from the journey of Amy and how I have handled this roller coaster I now call my life.
Amy Ritsema, co-owner of OnSite Wellness, at chemotherapy just before Christmas 2021.
I love to laugh and make people laugh. I can’t imagine living life without humor and I am not going to stop now. One night I had a couple friends come over for a visit before my surgery, and I laughed so hard I blew a blood vessel in my eye. It was so worth it!
Find Joy in the Little Things
A cancer journey can easily zap all the joy. Days can be HARD. Some days my joy was simply laying on the couch and having my cat come snuggle or getting a card from a friend in the mail. FYI, if you are not a card sender, become one. The joy it brings to someone struggling is amazing!
Feel ALL the Feels
It is impossible to be positive and joyful all the time, even when you aren’t in a challenging time in your life. I have really learned to sit with my feelings — trust me there are many! I allow myself to cry; I talk about my feelings with people close to me and allow myself time to just sit with them quietly. They are real feelings and sweeping them under the rug and pretending they don’t exist does not help. I have found that allowing myself to feel them allows me to process and move through the feelings.
Recognize and Celebrate Small Wins
No win is too small. Having a 13-hour extensive surgery and 10 rounds of chemo can really mess with your body. And let’s not forget that chemo brain is a real thing! Taking a shower, walking 1,000 steps a day, staying home by myself without help, being able to focus for a 90-minute Zoom meeting, running one errand, driving a car are all examples of things I call a win. This has been some serious reframing for someone who used to run half marathons back in the day and thrived when I had work and social plans from sunup to sundown. Celebrate at the end of the day every win no matter how small!
Grace upon Grace
Amy Ritsema, co-owner of OnSite Wellness, wears footie pajamas during a chemotherapy treatment.
Sometimes life is just hard, and you can’t do all the things. It’s ok! There have been many days where my back side and the recliner have molded into one and all I did was stare out the window, watching grass grow. It is literally all I could do, and I have to be ok with it. It does zero good to think I should do more. “Should” is a word you need to stop saying! I have learned to let go of should and have embraced “what is.”
Embrace your People
I can’t say enough about the community that has surrounded me. Help with anything I ask for, rides to appointments, yard work, cards, texts, meals, visits, the list goes on. Don’t ever push them away, draw them close, thank them and tell them you love them. You need them, but they also need you.
Be Present and Hopeful
I will never know why cancer cells developed in my body, and I am not going to spend my time thinking “What if I did something different?” All I can do is be present every day, enjoying the life I have been given and continue to make plans for my future. I have hope that, even on the bad days, there are many good days, events, travels and lots of laughter in my future.
Amy Ritsema, co-owner of OnSite Wellness, during her final chemotherapy treatment in May 2022.
This occurred to me one day when we got one of our first snows of the year overnight (I highly dislike like winter). I was feeling very grumpy about the snow. When I walked to the window, I looked out to see bright blue sky and a brilliant late fall sun. It hit me like a rock upside the head, “LOOK UP!” You can take this phrase any way you want. It has a lot of potential positive meanings. However, for me, it was a spiritual meaning and one that reminded me to look up and trust God on this journey. It is not always easy to do, but in trusting God or a power higher than yourself, you will start to see all the ways that the journey has brought good to your life. I have had many silver linings and I am happy to share these with anyone. But for now, always LOOK UP — it does your mind good.