Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Two-time Testicular Cancer Survivor & Caregiver
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As a two-time testicular cancer survivor, Dave Craig knew he needed to switch gears in his life to find his purpose. In doing so, he also found his passion, his voice.
Dave grew up in Rochester, NY, and was a student-athlete. In his twenties, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Five years later, he was diagnosed with a second type of testicular cancer.
His first diagnosis was during his senior year of college, just a few months after he won the New York State Natural Bodybuilding title. He was in excellent shape and thought he had pulled a groin muscle. The campus Health Services Department sent David to the hospital for an ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis.
Dave started his Master’s in Technology Management while recovering from his first cancer diagnosis. Following his second diagnosis, he completed an Executive Education program at Harvard Business School in Business Model Design and Healthcare Innovation. He spent 10 years as a research and innovation consultant, managing 100 projects across North America, Europe, and Asia, before founding Gryt in 2016.
The initial diagnosis was too scary to admit publicly so Dave kept it to himself and close family. He did not open up about his diagnosis until twelve years later. That was when he started sharing his journey publicly on social media. The shift came after his father’s death, leaving his job and making major changes throughout his life.
For Dave’s first diagnosis, which was stage I, he only had surgery with close monitoring every three months. His second diagnosis was also stage-I but it was located in a different location, the spermatic cord. They didn’t know if it had spread into other areas, and having a second tumor type is very rare, so he had 21 cycles of radiation therapy after an orchiectomy surgery.
Dave’s treasured moments going through treatment were the endless love and support from his family. One memory was his brother helping him physically get in and out of the car after procedures. Sometimes it is just the little things that matter most.
With all the treatments he went through and in dealing with the aftermath that is cancer, including effects from radiation and loss of hormones, Dave became depressed. At one point, he told his parents that he didn’t know how long he wanted to live… if living felt like it did. The most challenging part was that he felt all alone. Dave knew he needed help, but he didn’t know how to ask for it.
Dave learned about Stupid Cancer in 2012, the Adolescent and Young Adult Advocacy Organization. He believes connecting with other young adult survivors and seeing them be open about their experiences, enabled him to stop hiding everything he was going through.
Dave was initially driven to use his voice by how he felt going through cancer and not knowing what to ask for or even that I could ask for help. The more he does the work with Gryt Health, and the more he has learned other people’s experiences is what now gives him the drive to help others in different situations. Finding ways to empower them to know how much their voice matters and to enable them to create change because of it.
When asked how important it is for him to share his voice and story, Dave said, “To me, our voice is how we know we matter, and it is a window into our humanity. There is nothing more important to me than our voice.”
Dave wished that someone would have told him that it’s okay to not know how to ask for help or even what to say. He wants everyone to know that whatever words come out are the right words.
Dave’s health journey has also been impacted by his father’s bladder cancer diagnosis and death. Currently, Dave’s wife, Ellis, is experiencing a stage IV melanoma diagnosis with brain metastasis and he has found himself deep in the caregiver’s role. Being a caregiver has been a profound experience for Dave and he now, 20 years after his initial diagnosis, identifies with this role much more strongly than his survivor’s role.
In 2016, Dave was involved with Stupid Cancer, helping develop an app with them. Later, when he started Gryt Health, the app launched under the Gryt Health name. Ellis found the app shortly after the launch and that’s how she met Dave while she was facing her first diagnosis of stage III melanoma with BRAF mutation in October 2017. Most recently, in July 2021, Ellis noticed she was having back pain. She saw a doctor in late August who prescribed physical therapy. Despite the physical therapy, Ellis’ pain proceeded to get worse and an MRI was ordered. The MRI showed that Ellis’ melanoma had not only recurred but progressed to stage IV.
Ellis and Dave reacted to the recurrence through action. They spoke with a number of medical professionals, including Gryt Health’s Dr. Dan Platt, and chose the treatment team and path she would work with. Then they proceeded in making wedding plans. On October 26, 2021, Ellis and Dave were married in Garden of the Gods, Colorado in a private mountain ceremony.
Both Ellis and Dave believe that this time around with facing a serious healthcare diagnosis, they are beyond blessed to have the Gryt Health team and community behind them and supporting them in so many ways. When both of them separately went through their first diagnoses, they felt immensely isolated and unsupported in their journeys. Now, because of the work and community that both of them have built in the years since, they have a wealth of knowledge, people, and support backing them that the experiences are completely different from before.
Dave shared that the most challenging part of this current journey is being able to gauge whether or not Ellis is feeling appropriately supported and being able to be present in the moment while giving her the amount and type of support she needs.
Historically, Dave did not make space for self-care while experiencing healthcare crises of others or his own. Lately, he has been trying to create some of that space for himself in the early mornings by waking up around 3:30 am when the world is still and quiet. In those moments, Dave is able to find peace, calm, clarity, and sacredness.
In terms of learning from his father’s bladder cancer battle, Dave has learned the most from reading things his father wrote after he passed. Like most people of his father’s generation, especially men, Dave’s dad did not communicate things directly or clearly during his lifetime. His father remained largely stoic throughout his diagnosis. As most adult children know, especially if they have been a caregiver to a parent, our experiences are often tainted and limited by the internal age-old workings of the individual’s family dynamics. This was no different for Dave.
Dave’s father was a Vietnam vet who suffered from PTSD. He did not discuss feelings or his past. Dave is grateful for the windows he has gotten to peer through after his father passed, but he was not privy to those thoughts or feelings while his father was alive.
A cherished moment from when his father was going through treatment is hearing a shared favorite song with his brother and father while leaving the treatment center in Rochester, NY, and driving back to Webster. They were driving home and “Good Riddance, Time of My Life.” by Green Day came on the radio.
When Dave’s father passed, he quit his research job to become an entrepreneur and committed his life to make systemic changes in the healthcare system. Since Dave’s life has changed so drastically since that time, he believes that, in a way, everything that Gryt Health does on a daily basis is a way that he is able to honor the lives of the people in his family who have experienced healthcare crises and major diagnoses.
Dave shared that Gryt Health has included close to 1,500 individuals in the patient experience research that we do. Our Research Team is utilizing people’s voices to improve healthcare, either by the development of medicine or through supportive care for people with cancer. In working with those 1,500 individuals, Gryt Health has helped make an impact with healthcare already. Gryt Health has also had 20,000 people participate live in our educational programs to help manage their journey, or move in a direction that they’re trying to navigate. The Gryt Health app, our peer-to-peer app, that will soon become Gryt Lynk, has 1.4 million interactions to connect and support each other. So to Dave, that’s the scope of Gryt Health. So when we asked Dave the question, “What his Gryt Health accomplished?” He immediately sees individuals sharing their voices or doing something they didn’t know they could. That is how I feel the impact of Gryt Health.
In the next 10 years, Dave believes, patients will profoundly change the healthcare system. They are the most left out stakeholders of healthcare. Only by including patients in the healthcare infrastructure, will sustainable change be created, improvements made and corrections of the unfathomable disparities enacted.
Brad Love, Gryt Health co-founder, is a behavioral health researcher, which is different than a biology researcher. Biologists develop medicines, behavioral researchers focus on the human being. Dave believes healthcare has a lot more to do to support and empower individuals to be empowered, active, and cared for. Therefore, Gryt Health will continue doing more things to support the whole human as we are a part of increasing overall survival and improving quality of life.
Without question, the humans that makeup Gryt Health, starting with our team, are what makes Gryt Health “Gryt Health,” according to Dave. “There is nothing I’ve ever been a part of in my life that equals the superhero-like qualities of the team, and by extension, what that lets us do together as an organization,” Dave shared. He views each and every human in the Gryt Health community as rock stars.