Nothing for granted
November 21, 2012
One local woman’s inspirational story of giving thanks
Around this time last year, Dena Bjork was relieved to finally find a doctor that would work with her in order that she could afford critical medical care to address cancer for the second time in her life. Much better a year later, Bjork is filled with thanks each day. Photo by Hope Strong
As Dena Bjork bows her head this Thanksgiving, she won’t struggle to come up with things in her life that she is grateful for.
After battling a history of personal illness, Bjork gives thanks for her own life and for the friends and family that have helped her battle cancer.
In 1996, pregnant with her second child, Bjork was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She had a complicated pregnancy, but her delivery went fine. After she held her daughter in her arms, Bjork wrestled with the reality that she needed a radical hysterectomy.
“They took everything out, even part of my colon and my large intestine,” Bjork said. “When the doctor opened me up, he found damaged organs along with cancerous cells. I cheated death so many times, I shouldn’t even be sitting here.”
Receiving medical assistance from Washington State during her pregnancy, Bjork had to fight in order to follow her doctor’s recommendation for the radical hysterectomy, but it was not the last time she would fight for that which would save her life.
“Looking at it now, it’s fate,” Bjork said of her medical history, “its God’s plan for me, His purpose.”
After spending nearly seven years getting adjusted to hormones after her hysterectomy, Bjork spent the next several years in poor health, but her situation reached a critical point in April 2011. And with her medical history as it was, finding an insurance policy to cover her was impossible.
“I knew something was wrong, really wrong,” she said. “I was having trouble going to the bathroom. Getting an MRI or a CAT scan was cost prohibitive. I didn’t need another bill. I had applied for insurance three different times, but I made too much money to qualify for available programs.”
With fear looming that her cervical cancer was returning, but not knowing how to go about addressing her condition, Bjork started to educate herself while trying to treat herself. She self-medicated with over the counter drugs and tried her best to live the healthiest lifestyle, but to no avail. Her condition was getting worse.
After visiting with Eastern Idaho Public Health in Driggs, Bjork finally found a doctor at Community Care, a clinic in Idaho Falls, that was willing to work with her economic situation. Starting roughly a year ago, Bjork had blood work done that suggested the need for a biopsy. A bladder infection had escalated into interstitial cystitis with a risk of cancerous cells forming.
“If I’d had someone to consult, this condition could have been preventable,” Bjork said.
Working through a variety of grant programs, Bjork has been able to obtain the medication she needed: chemotherapy in a pill form, blood pressure medication and hormones. In September, Bjork had another biopsy done, and the results came back fine, but her health is always on her mind.
“I don’t know what I would do if it wasn’t for my faith and my kids,” Bjork said. “I feed off the energy of friends and family, but my church has taught me patience, letting go and allowing faith to take over.”
With other members of the Summit Church in Driggs, Bjork was baptized in the Teton River last July.
“I grew up religious, but I’ve never had so much belief as this last year.”
Bjork acknowledged the support of different faith communities throughout Teton Valley. So many others have prayed for her, and she is humbled by the outpouring of love locally.
“I make it my goal every day to thank God that I am able to open my eyes,” she said. “Every second is special, because things can change so fast. You look at people and situations differently. Nothing is taken for granted.”