Renée Reitmeier uses fika to heal after cancer
Last updated 7/12/2022 at Noon
If you’ve spent any time at the Sisters coffee shop Fika on East Sun Ranch Drive, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced the meaning behind the name. Inspired by Swedish tradition, Fika is both a noun and a verb: One can enjoy a fika, and one can fika. It’s a daily ritual that promotes gathering together to take a break from everyday routines with coffee and pastries.
When founder Reneé Reitmeier envisioned Fika’s mission she wanted to encourage customers to catch their breath, gather together, and enjoy the beauty of life. Now she understands she needed more Fika in her life, too.
For almost a year, Reitmeier has been mostly absent from her beloved business. Customers have missed her beaming smile and warm, welcoming personality. Reitmeier opened Fika’s doors in 2019. She dedicated countless hours to creating a friendly, casual environment where people can enjoy something sweet with a cup of coffee or tea.
When the pandemic hit a year after the shop opened, Reitmeier did everything she could to keep her business afloat. She admits now that while running the coffee shop, she didn’t always listen to what her body was telling her. “I just got up, made scones, served coffee… all things I love to do; but all of sudden my body said, ‘It’s my time to have control.’”
Diagnosed with breast cancer in August of last year, Reitmeier now sees there were signs that something wasn’t right. Hearing those dreaded words from her doctor was a shock.
“I didn’t have time to have cancer,” she said. “That was a real battle at first.”
Just considering giving over control of her business was hard to imagine. Like many small business owners, she thought she had to be there most of the time for it to be successful. That’s when her staff stepped in and told her it was their time to run the business.
“Trusting people and letting my employees run the shop was hard at first. Letting them love and care on it as much as I would was such a blessing. Employees who helped so much were Michele, Amanda, and Scout. They took on all the responsibilities for running the shop and assured me they were happy to do it,” she said.
To add to the challenge, Reitmeier’s family was hit hard, with both Renée and her father being treated for cancer.
“Dad and I were talking to our oncologists at the same time,” she said.
Sadly, her father did not survive, leaving the family missing him, and worried about her.
Reitmeier’s sister was her main support, taking her to treatments and helping her in a myriad of ways. During her husband’s illness, Reitmeier’s mother focused her time taking care of him until he passed away. The two women needed to be together.
“I moved in with Mom. People came to help, and we moved what I needed over there. It was such a gift for the two of us. When you don’t feel well, you want your mom. I’m so lucky to have her. We’re both missing dad but its better doing that together.
“We have a leisurely morning routine,” she said. “Every morning we do our devotionals or read and eat breakfast together.”
Everyone has a different way to handle going through cancer. Reitmeier envisioned a “Star Wars” scene with a battle underway.
“During chemo, I told myself I have a few Death Stars in my body, and I need the Rebel Alliance to go in there and explode them. The force is with me, and my Jedi knights are fighting for me,” she said with a laugh. “That helped me a lot during chemo.”
Reitmeier called the chemo liquid light. Her sister made her a play list that helped give her courage.
“I have had some serious Jedi training,” she said. “There’s a lot of Rebel Alliance, good people in this town. They supported me in so many ways, and in some cases in ways I don’t even know. I can’t imagine going through this without their help and prayers. It pulled away from focusing on the bad so I could see the good all around me. The prayers sustained both Mom and I so we could heal.”
A friend gave her a purple T-shirt that says, “Triumph Team,” because she called her chemo day Triumph Thursday. Through it all her faith was her main source of strength, hope, and resiliency.
“I’m so grateful for my faith. It got rocked. I had some intense conversations with God, asking what was going on. Especially losing my dad at the same time,” she said.
Saying goodbye to her father made her own mortality more real. She also could see the fear in family members as they dealt with his death and the possibility they could lose her too. A lover of romantic comedies, Reitmeier always saw herself as more of a Meg Ryan character in the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” but after her diagnosis, she had to become more of a Lara Croft-type woman.
With treatment finally behind her, Reitmeier has taken some sage advice she received from a customer who asked her how she was doing.
“I said I felt like a volcano had erupted in the middle of my life, and hot lava was all around me. His reply was so special. He said, ‘You know lava turns into new land.’ That helped me frame this experience while the hot lava flowed. Now that it’s stopped and hardened into something new, I’m learning how to navigate my new land.”
Looking back over the last year, Reitmeier is grateful for the integrative therapies offered through the St. Charles Cancer Center.
“The acupuncture, Reiki, and massage therapists knew what my body was going through. They brought relief and often explained what was happening in my body as the chemotherapy worked itself out of me. It’s so different from how the doctors treat me. These women really understood what I was going through and have such healing energy. Going to the Cancer Center purely for healing therapies was such a good way to not feel anxious when I enter the building,” she said.
There have been so many blessings during her cancer treatment. People helped by providing food, praying for her family, and offering her gifts that encouraged her to slow down and look inward.
“As I move into being more present, I have the chance to be involved in my business differently,” she said. “It’s a new season now, with different rhythms. They were so ingrained but I’m more dialed into what’s important in my life. Family and friends are so important, and I want to spend more time with them. I can have more balance in my life. It feels good to be needed, but also to be independent and able to do other things. I’m curious to see how life will look and how I will structure my time. There are so many things I want to do in this beautiful place that we live.”