Rachel Byrd

Senior Research Coordinator

Rachel cool

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Rachel’s life has been impacted by cancer repeatedly by the diagnoses of close family members. Her sister experienced pediatric cancer and she has lost an aunt and an uncle due to cancer diagnoses. The impact of those diagnoses was a lasting curiosity about cancer and a desire to work in the oncology field. 

Originally from Hell, Michigan, Rachel traded the Great Lakes for the ruggedness of Bozeman, Montana in the heart of the Rocky Mountains and surrounded by Yellowstone National Park. Rachel spends as much time as she can in the outdoors and exploring all the nature around her. When she’s not exploring her natural surroundings, she’s snuggled up with her cat, Milo, who she adopted from a former research subject at the virology lab. 

Despite her relocation to Bozeman, Rachel remains very close with her family and college undergrad friends. She returns to Michigan as often as possible and while there spends all of her time with her sisters and cousins. Her college friends are spread out across the country, but when they are able, they all travel to visit each other and they keep the flame of friendship alive. 

Rachel received her Bachelor of Science degree from Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant in 2018. Her senior thesis was on opto and chemogenetic treatments of Parkinson’s disease. She worked with rodents on the project and that was her first taste of clinical research. The hard-bench research she did at CMU laid the groundwork for her research passion. She continued her work with research by obtaining a Masters in Health Science with an emphasis in Molecular Medicine from Montana State University in Bozeman. Her Master’s thesis focused on a topic she has always been drawn to familial dysautonomia, a genetic condition. She completed her Master’s coursework in 2019.

Before joining Gryt Health, Rachel worked as a study director in a virology unit of a materials testing facility where they tested everyday products like household cleaners and hand sanitizers. While she found the work she was doing fascinating, Rachel felt a void and desired to do something more with her career and went in search of a patient-facing position where she could see her work having a larger impact. 

Gryt Health is fortunate to have Rachel as a Senior Research Coordinator. She helps with the coordination of the Gryt Project’s active research projects. She is involved in a lot of the active patient outreach efforts and is involved with our active research projects. Rachel connects our community members, as patients, with projects that they may potentially be eligible to participate in. 

Rachel’s sister, Jocelyn, is a Stage IV Wilms tumor survivor who was diagnosed in 2003 when Rachel was 7 years old. Her sister was in and out of the hospital, unable to do a lot of things that she had previously done due to treatment effects and the need to be cautious about germ exposure. She received chemotherapy, radiation, and a nephrectomy (kidney removal). As a child, Rachel did not fully understand what her sister was going through, but she remembers just really missing being able to spend time and do things with her sister. During that time, Rachel got her long hair cut and donated it so that her sister could have a wig during treatment.   July 16, 2021, was her 18-year anniversary of being cancer-free. 

Rachel has also been impacted by the cancer diagnoses of extended family members that she was also close to. Her paternal aunt, Kathy passed from uterine cancer when she was a teen and her paternal uncle, Steve passed from cholangiocarcinoma and other complications in 2017. As a teen when her aunt Kathy was going through her diagnosis, Rachel witnessed the medical, financial, and mental health struggles that her aunt experienced in a very personal way when her aunt moved in with her family. Her uncle Steve’s experience was a little different as he lived further away, but Rachel developed her love of outdoor adventures and nature from him as he really had a zest for life and traveled to experience various natural beauties despite the progression of his disease as long as he could manage it. 

For Rachel, the most challenging part of treatment to witness was watching her loved ones experience declines in mental and physical health. She tried to be as present and supportive as she possibly could for her family members when they were moving through their journeys and poured as much of herself in making their time together memorable. The only thing that Rachel wishes she’d done as a caregiver and support person is to utilize the support resources she knew she had available to her and to practice more self-care. 

Some of the special moments from when her loved ones were going through treatment were centered around some of the simplest things. Rachel holds special memories of her aunt Kathy traveling to tennis tournaments with her family and taking pictures of Rachel and her teammates. Every Christmas Eve was spent with her Uncle Steve, so one of her favorite memories includes the entire family as they went ALL OUT with the Christmas sweaters one year and had a competition within the family. During her sister’s diagnosis, the entire family got to travel to Disney World in Florida and experience a lot of firsts all together as a family. 

Rachel is also an advocate for mental health issues. She is a great proponent for the Gryt Health team in ensuring that we all take care of our mental health. She believes that working with the Gryt Health community helps them with their own healing processes. By providing a way for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers an opportunity to participate in our research projects, to share their stories, and express what they have experienced makes Rachel’s heart full. She is grateful daily for the opportunities she has to help our community and help them feel less alone in their experiences.

One of the things that excites Rachel about working with Gryt Health is that Gryt really promotes and encourages people to use their voices and talk about the hard things in life that we are facing. Having the Gryt Health community of people who understand what someone is going through and having a safe space to talk about them even if an individual’s family or friends don’t understand where an individual is coming from, they still have the Gryt Health community to support them through the challenging times. 

Rachel’s favorite place is Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. It is about a 4.5-hour drive from where she lives in Bozeman. She says it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth and it blows her mind every time she visits because it’s so hard to believe that there are beautiful places that actually exist. 

One place that Rachel would really love to travel to is Alaska due to the immense amounts of untouched nature to experience. Her aunt and uncle visited before he passed away and they shared the amazing adventures with her through photographs and she really wants to see it all in person.  

When Rachel isn’t connecting our community members to amazing research opportunities, she enjoys anything that will get her outdoors, especially in the summer. She enjoys hiking, camping, crocheting, knitting, and embroidery. Rachel has been a flautist since she was 10 years old. Not only has she picked up her flute again during the pandemic but she has also been learning to play the guitar and piano. An avid reader, Rachel also says she enjoys any time she can get her hands on a book. She nourishes herself by spending as much time with friends and family as possible.

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