Welcome, I’m Michelle Marthia.

It appears we have something in common. Perhaps we’re peers in illness. Perhaps you’re caring for a loved one who is moving toward end of life. Whatever life event brings you here, may you find the support and refuge you seek.

The thing I most want you to know is that I am dedicated to guiding you through uncertainty, while easing the emotional burden, fear and anxiety often experienced during these difficult transitions.

Because I’ve been there, too.

I know what it feels like to be shaken off your foundation by a life-threatening illness. My cancer diagnosis was delivered on a Wednesday afternoon nine days before my 43rd birthday. I was scheduled to meet with some folks regarding my biopsy results at 1:00 pm, and by 1:15 I officially had a malignancy I couldn’t shake.

The whirlwind of a diagnosis is accompanied by a swift moving current of appointments, research, difficult conversations, statistics, and numerous decisions. And then we begin. The path is laid and we start walking toward our future.

The thing is, nobody ever talks about how to manage re-entry into our lives post-diagnosis and treatment, with or without our illness in tow. Are you currently living with something, or in fear of it coming back? So am I.

How do we find our wellbeing again when so much has been altered and stripped away?

For me, the transition from active-treatment proved far more difficult than expected. I was actually blindsided in slow-motion. I assumed I’d be relieved to move on from the grueling portion of this experience.

But the space for healing became crowded with fear and sadness. I was so damn tired from treatment and my brain no longer operated the way it once did. I was slow to realize what was happening…that I was slipping emotionally. Anxiety took root in my mind and I didn’t know how to find my equilibrium again.

Illness has a way of distilling our essence and sloughing away the bits we don’t really need. We discover new things about ourselves, our relationships, our professional lives, and our beliefs and values…both subtle and significant. Throughout this process of revealing and removing we arrive someplace new. We are changed and altered. There is no going back.

For me, this took the shape of deep connection to the community of the ill. In 2012, I founded the non-profit, Heal Courageously, as a way to support those in the midst of life-threatening illness. This small band of incredible volunteers provides free professional photography sessions to patients, caregivers and survivors as a way of reflecting back to them all that cannot be stolen by illness.

As a patient, I had a plan. And then suddenly…I didn’t.

Rise + Refuge Wellbeing quietly emerged while I was working a job that left me depleted, frustrated, and questioning how I was spending my time. After conducting surveys, and speaking with many other patients, I realized the struggle to discover a new sense of wellbeing during and after illness is common. Yet resources are limited. Rise + Refuge is my answer to this challenge.

Difficult Topics

Who hasn’t been flustered by the topics we’d rather turn away from? I’ve struggled with conversations about loss, betrayal, abandonment and grief. But I have also grown within the challenge of these discussions. I fail or flounder often, but I remain open to showing up in a meaningful way. I learned early in my treatment that making friends at a cancer hospital meant many of my friends would die. But we’re all dying. So let’s talk about that.

As human beings, we are hardwired for both connection and the ability to process grief.

I have encountered death many times in my life, beginning most profoundly when I was seven. My aunt died after a sudden illness, diagnosed as legionnaire’s disease, at the age of 27. A varying magnitude of death has visited in a steady succession ever since.

But it wasn’t until my own illness and the gift of sitting with a dear friend 48 hours before he passed, that I realized I hold the capacity to be present in this difficult space. The in-between, or liminal space on either side of a threshold. However, I immediately wished I had been better at it, for him, and knew instinctively there was more I could have done to offer comfort to him and his family.

A subtle shift is happening within our death culture and conversations are an important part of it. As an End of Life Doula, I have the opportunity to help facilitate these discussions, ensuring others are aware of their options while assisting with planning that is based upon their personal wishes for the end of life.

I am deeply honored to guide clients and their loved ones through the complexities of end of life transitions.  My work is rooted in compassion and kindness with the desire to support families in all aspects of achieving a peaceful death.  Difficult topics indeed. But gifts beyond measure.

Preparing for end of life has the power to ease emotional burdens and clear space for living fully.

I’ve discovered many things about myself through the lens of illness. While I would never consider illness a gift or blessing in my life, I do recognize and honor the way it broke me open to a different way of being. I’ve experienced growth and loss and am continuously stretched by the experience. I am most grateful for my ability to turn toward others when some might turn away. It’s the most important discovery I’ve made about myself and I’m honored to be of support.

A few more details…

  • I am a HELD™ certified End of Life Doula.

  • I am certified in Interdisciplinary End of Life and Palliative Care through the University of Utah.

  • I am a master certified health and wellness coach through Catalyst Coaching Institute.

  • I am uncomfortable in large groups but love public speaking.

  • I rescue animals as often as they rescue me.

  • I love that my Irish heritage is freckled upon my skin.

  • I believe wholeheartedly in the power of kindness.

  • I always root for the Buffalo Bills no matter how hopeless it seems.

  • I believe our bodies hold deep knowledge and wisdom.

  • I love exploring places on foot.

  • I cherish the opportunity to be stretched by life.