Entrepreneurs face mental health challenges just like everyone else. And the stress of running a business can lead to burnout and feelings of isolation. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ll be sharing inspiring stories and wellness resources to shine a spotlight on the issue. 


Sylvia Ng was in her prime, a young mother with a successful career as a tech executive, when she received the news: she had breast cancer.

After weaning off her infant son, Sylvia noticed the issues she had while breastfeeding were persisting. Her husband prompted her to get it checked. She didn’t expect the diagnosis that came—she was so young, after all.

Throughout Sylvia’s experiences, the gaps in resources and support for those with cancer became apparent. For one, she found that Western medicine often ignored a more holistic view of health care—even though data showed that wellness practices like massage and aromatherapy benefitted cancer patients when paired with clinical treatment. Sylvia also realized that resources for the friends and family of those with cancer also fell short.

These critical support systems lacked the right words—and gifts—to give to their loved ones. 

In the aftermath of her own battle, Sylvia launched Amidira, a cancer care box brand, in the hopes that she would educate others on the best ways to take recovery into their own hands. Her products are paired with content that share ways for people to advocate for loved ones’ health and invest in self-care.

Surviving cancer was a do-over for Sylvia. She reevaluated what mattered in her career and her life and began to design a future that aligned with her values. Starting over as an entrepreneur wasn’t as easy as she expected. But if she could survive cancer, she was ready for anything.

This is Sylvia’s story, in her own words:

It never occurs to you that you would get diagnosed that young.

Between knowing that I had cancer and that my surgery was only in a couple of weeks, there wasn’t much time for me to absorb. I’m very happy about that, because I wouldn’t have wanted the cancer to sit with me longer. But at the same time, it didn’t really let me mentally adjust. 

It’s the kids that really got me. I learned that when you do get cancer young, it does seem to be more aggressive. I kept looking at the kids and just freaking out because I was like, “I’m not going to be there for them.” And I was in tears a lot, even before the diagnosis, just at the thought of not being there. The hospital gave me some kids’ books and I read those to my four-year-old. He saw my scar and called it my “ouchie.” For a while, it afforded me to have a little bit more time with him. That was actually nice.

A woman lies in the grass laughing with her two young children
Sylvia Ng

Normally, I’m used to being the person who’s there for other people. Being the vulnerable one all of a sudden was a very weird thing. I don’t deal well with things being done to me that I don’t feel like I can do something about. I’m a very data-oriented person, so I want to know a lot. It wasn’t even just Google—I went to the library and took out every book on breast cancer there was.

Normally, I’m used to being the person who’s there for other people. Being the vulnerable one all of a sudden was a very weird thing.

Unfortunately in Western medicine, we’re too drug-first for everything. There could be more organizations out there springing up on the side of taking more preventative measures. A lot of the research I did upfront showed that art therapy does help a lot of people. So does meditation and massage. I wanted to put that information out there to show we could be a little more holistic in our approach to health.

I like making things and solving problems. I wanted to fix the fact that when you get support or gifts from people, they don’t necessarily help. And that cancer patients don’t get this information at their fingertips when they’re first diagnosed.

I wish there was somebody that was there when I got the cancer so I wouldn’t have had to read all those books. Someone who’s just there to answer my questions.

What first gave me the idea of Amidira was seeing that gifts for cancer patients really suck. There were always two camps of stuff: gifts with either pink or swear words on it. Everything is F cancer, F this. Or then the chocolates and cookies. Neither of these are things I would’ve wanted as a cancer patient.

I wanted to do gifts and not just packages for cancer patients to buy for themselves because the support network really matters. That’s why I wanted to arm them with something that is, in my view, more worthwhile than cookies. 

An array of products by Amidira arranged on a color-blocked surface
Amidira

With my tech job I have some form of recognition in the space. I’ve spoken at events, I have a blog that people read, I have a certain confidence in my skills and abilities. With Amidira, I’ve had to build from scratch—the connections especially, but also the knowledge. I have made so many mistakes now, from choosing the wrong types of labels on the products to not knowing to consider Chinese holidays when factoring shipping times.

Launching Amidira was a starting over not just from the lens of doing something I hadn’t done before, but also doing work in a way I hadn’t done before.

It’s really a big blow to your ego. I can’t just post about my new business and expect engagement like before. I don’t have contacts within the industry, and there are many things that I didn’t know how to do. But once I get past myself, it’s actually a great feeling to be taking on new challenges and learning new things.

Launching Amidira was a starting over not just from the lens of doing something I hadn’t done before, but also doing work in a way I hadn’t done before. I still wanted to work against my goals, but not at the sacrifice of my health and my family. So this made me insert more breaks and put more fun and joy into my day. I prioritize the things that I enjoy doing more than before. 

Running a side business on top of a full-time job with the kids at home and my husband also running his own startup, it’s not a light job. Cancer gave me the perspective to have more balance in my life and really understand what’s more important. I put my family through a lot, and for me to not have that benefit of insight and perspective would be a shame. 

Lots of people want to start over but never do until something like cancer hits. So I’m grateful that the cancer gave me that push early in life.

Now that I’m more experienced, I view starting over less as a thing that happens once or twice in a lifetime. It’s more something that happens regularly if you’re attempting new things and failing. When you don’t get things right, you try again. Success doesn’t come without a string of these “starting over” incidents.

With Amidira, I have come across many people who are hit with the possibility of death from cancer. At the time of diagnosis, a lot of people reflect on what their life had meant, or means, and often the conclusion is “I wish I did this” or “I’m going to put my remaining time into doing that.”

Lots of people want to start over but never do until something like cancer hits. So I’m grateful that the cancer gave me that push early in life.


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Feature image by Loren Blackman



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