Dave Bjork of GRYT Health: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Be your own advocate. You can be in control. Do your homework, ask questions and seek opinions. There is no such thing as a dumb question– this is your life!
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Bjork.
A lung cancer survivor, Dave Bjork has made it his life mission to connect patients, biopharma companies, academic institutions, and other key influencers to forge strong partnerships to focus on research. Dave has more than 25 years of progressive experience in community-building, nonprofit fundraising, and patient engagement and empowerment leadership. He is currently Vice President of Empowerment for GRYT Health, working with a team that provides patient-centric solutions to their pharmaceutical and healthcare clients’ most challenging problems. Dave is also creator and host of the Research Evangelist Podcast where he interviews pioneers in life sciences doing meaningful work.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?
I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, so I consider myself a Midwesterner at heart. I was voted “friendliest guy” in high school, and I often laugh about how that really defines me because I have always surrounded myself with good people who care. I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and have lived most of my adult life in greater Boston.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are a couple quotes that resonate with me. The first is “there but for the grace of God, go I” and the second one is the Golden Rule: “treat others the way you want to be treated yourself.” Both quotes relate to my experience of surviving cancer; because of this experience, I live a life of gratitude. That gratitude means that before I cast judgement on others, I consider what it would be like to walk in their shoes. It’s really about having empathy for others and recognizing that in many ways, I have lived a life of great privilege and that humbles me.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?
I was on a weekend fishing trip in Maine with friends, and I got really sick. When I got home and went to see my doctor, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent home with antibiotics. Then, I got pneumonia again 6 months later, so I was sent to have a CT scan. I was a healthy nonsmoker and father of three boys under the age of six, so I was shocked when told that I had lung cancer. I will never forget the day my doctor called me because it changed my life forever.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
I remember thinking that I may die. The scariest part was thinking about my three young boys and how my wife would have to raise them without me. I was worried I didn’t have enough life insurance or savings to provide for our kids. I couldn’t help but think of the worst outcomes, and from everything I read about lung cancer, it was a grim prognosis.
How did you react in the short term?
I felt sorry for myself at first and had a hard time concentrating at work. I was catastrophizing and thinking of all the worst possible outcomes ahead of me. Then, I put on what I call my “game face.” I realized that I had to deal with my situation and be strong to face the challenge. I was determined to stay positive.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
I had an invasive lobectomy and spent a week in the hospital on a morphine drip. To get through that and the months of recovery at home, I coped by breaking down time into the smallest chunks possible. I would say to myself that “I can’t worry about tomorrow until I get through today, and I can’t get through today until I get through the next hour, minute, second, etc.” I became hyper focused on being present and staying in the moment to fight through the pain.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
I am most grateful for my wife, Missi, for helping me through my cancer experience. I often say that I know it was harder for her than it was for me. Not only did she take care of me when I was bedridden after my surgery, but she also took care of our three boys while working as a nurse. I know that it was hard on her, not just physically but also emotionally, to take on all that responsibility. She is an amazing woman, and I am forever grateful for everything she did for me and our family.
In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?
That’s an interesting question. What comes to mind is that my experience surviving cancer taught me that I should appreciate my life and everything that is important to me. It taught me to be more grateful every day for my wife, kids and friends. It taught me to slow down, be more patient, gracious and respectful. It really made me a better person.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I live a life of gratitude because I had a positive outcome from my cancer experience. Yes, I was terrified at the time but surviving made me realize how fortunate I was because so many others have not had this same outcome. This makes me think about others before myself and to have compassion for what other people are going through. Honestly, the experience made me a better person. I am a lot more empathetic to other people’s experiences.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
I became a more active patient advocate and always offer help to other cancer patients. I also helped raise our boys to be grateful, humble and compassionate. Surviving a scary health diagnosis changes the way you see the world. Living a life full of gratitude can have a positive impact on the people you interact with. I really believe that my cheerful outlook can bring goodness to the world.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
I think people should know that when you are diagnosed with cancer, you can be your own advocate and have a sense of control. Many people may feel helpless and at the mercy of their doctor or the system. I would say be your own advocate, seek help from your family and friends and get second opinions.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
- Put your “game face” on. Get yourself in the mindset of taking on this challenge to fight. Be strong and focused.
- Be your own advocate. You can be in control. Do your homework, ask questions and seek opinions. There is no such thing as a dumb question– this is your life!
- Accept help. When people offer to help, take them up on it. It may be rides to appointments, watching your kids or making meals.
- Be positive. I believe being emotionally positive will help your body physically.
- Thank your caregivers. One thing I wish I had done better was to thank my wife for everything she was doing while I was sick.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
I believe every person deserves access to optimal healthcare, no matter what you look like, where you live or the language you speak. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to make sure everyone who is eligible for a lung cancer screening receives a low dose CT scan. There are many barriers to access the tools needed to detect lung cancer early. In my ideal world, everyone eligible to get a screening would get it. The earlier lung cancer is detected, the better the outcome.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
I’d love to have lunch with Oprah Winfrey and be an ally of hers to help address how people of color suffer from systemically substandard healthcare in the United States. I know my cancer experience was one of great privilege. I would love to work with her to improve outcomes for underserved communities.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.
Savio pens a weekly newsletter at thehumanresolve.com where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.
He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, Food Network, WW, and Bloomberg. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.
Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.