Getting to know…Schenectady health coach Cheryl Syta

A look at health coach Cheryl Syta.

Health coach Cheryl Syta.

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GETTING TO KNOW – Horse trainers can take a lot of different paths, but they don’t usually lead to health care — for humans, at least. Cheryl Syta of Schenectady, however, did exactly that.

After graduating from the now-defunct Virginia Intermont College with a degree in horsemanship, Syta took care of the equines and taught riding lessons at a variety of places in the South. While a call to the vet isn’t always pleasant, for Syta, it was a chance to pick the provider’s brain.

“Not that I never wanted to have to call the vet, but I’d be like ‘Oh I get to talk to the vet!’” Syta said.

As her interest in the animals’ health grew, so did her need for a challenge.

“I wanted a more challenging job so I started thinking, ‘Hm, maybe I should become a nurse,’” Syta added.

And so began her next path, a winding track that would eventually culminate in a small business. Cher in Health is Syta’s newest venture, a health coaching business for those who have recently completed cancer treatment.

While in nursing school at the University of Buffalo, Syta had an internship at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“That was in 1998, and I haven’t turned back since,” Syta said.

In between the myriad of duties she has running Cher in Health, Syta still works as a nurse. She juggles a part-time gig at St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam, as well as occasional per diem work at Saratoga Hospital.

Recently, The Daily Gazette spoke with Syta about her journey.

Question: What made you want to start your own venture after being so involved in oncology already?
Answer: I always had an interest in survivorship and what happens to them after treatment. I read an essay once that, after treatment, you feel like you’re coughing and spluttering on the deck. They’ve been pulled out of the water, but they’re left coughing and spluttering to figure out what happens next by themselves. 

My interest in what happens next after cancer treatment has just grown and grown over the years. I see that cancer patients receive the message like ‘Welp, you’re done with treatment so just go back to normal.’ It’s not that easy, they’ve been through trauma.

Q: What does ‘health coaching’ mean to you?
A: I’m an analogy person. I equate it to learning to swim but with those water wings, like when you were a kid. So we all have things in our lives that we’re trying to do for our health, like getting better sleep or eating better, all of us have those things. We think ‘Oh, I should do this, but I just can’t get there.’ So health coaches are the water wings, or the bridge to help people actually make those changes in our lives. 

Q: What were some unexpected highs and lows of starting your own business?
A:  A high for me has been telling people what I’m doing and having them either break out with joy like ‘Oh my god, that’s so needed’ [or] ‘I really need that.’ Or break out into emotion or crying because what I’m saying is what they’re experiencing, not knowing what to do next and wanting some advice on how to get back on track. So, experiencing that has been incredible.

The less fun part is the business side of it; needing guidance on starting a website, filing all the paperwork needed, that’s been difficult and challenging for me. But luckily, I have very smart people behind me helping with that.

Q: What can the average person do to help a loved one undergoing cancer treatment?
A: Sit down, ask them what they need, and what they want. Have an honest, open discussion about what those are for them. because it is a very personal journey. I think in any situation where we’re trying to help and be with someone we love, especially with cancer, we all want to jump in with advice and fix it. That, in some ways, makes us feel better.

So the hard thing, the vulnerable thing, to do is to really listen with some serious empathy about what is best for them. That’s a major foundation of health coaching, which is different from nurse training. My nurse training says to hand them some info and say, ‘Go do this because I say so.’ But health coaching training is so much more about presence and empathy.

Q: How do you balance your nursing duties with running your business?
A: It’s been great honestly. I think it fits my personality to have all these different things going on at once. I always liked jobs where I do a lot of different things. So I created this life for myself [where] I’m doing different things and meeting different people. Depending on the day, I might be meeting with a chiropractor or an ER patient. It definitely keeps my skills sharp.  

Q: How did you bridge the gap between your nursing education and becoming a health coach?
A: It was a lot more difficult than I thought. In fact, a lot of my colleagues, when I would tell them about health coaching training, they’d say ‘You know how to do that already!’ And I’d say ‘No, I don’t. It’s very, very different.’ It’s really changed the way I interact with my patients and, quite frankly, with the world.

No one likes unsolicited advice and it became obvious to me how just offering sympathy and saying, ‘Do this and you’ll be better,’ can be harmful. Health coaching has really sharpened my listening skills, and how to really be with a patient.

Q: What would you say to a patient who is reluctant to get health coaching?
A: I would say that you deserve to feel healthy, and chances are, if you can get some help and really listen to yourself, you know what is best for your body, mind and spirit to recover.

Q: Any future plans or goals?
A: I’d love for whole-person survivorship care, meaning looking at someone’s body, mind and spirit. I’d love for that to become the standard of care in oncology. 

I think I’ve created a model for whole-person care. I think it’s the model patients want.

“Getting To Know …” is a weekly feature spotlighting people making a difference in the lives of others. If there’s someone you think we should feature, let us know by emailing us at [email protected]

Categories: Business, Clifton Park and Halfmoon, Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, News, Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, Schenectady County

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