Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Bryan Bishop. Bryan, or “Bald Bryan” as he is known to listeners of The Adam Carolla Show, is a podcast co-host, writer, husband, and survivor. Bryan’s first book Shrinkage: Manhood, Marriage, and the Tumor That Tried to Kill Me is an honest, and genuine look into his life, and the struggles that his disease caused. The forthright and open voice Bryan uses to bring us on his journey was even more evident over the phone. We spoke of how his diagnosis changed his life, lessons he’s learned, and how some advice years ago set the tone for his successful career, and life.
What made you decide to write the book and share your story?
What made me decide to write it was a book agent calling me up and saying, “Hey, I think you have a great story, and I think we can sell it.” I don’t know if you know who Teresa Strasser is, but she was our cohost on the Adam Carolla show for a few years. She wrote a very funny book called Exploiting My Baby. Her agent, who is a fan of the show, tracked me down, and sent me a copy of the book and said, “Hey I think you have a great story, I think we can sell it, would you be interested in writing a book?” “I was an English major in college, a creative writing major actually, so I love writing, it comes very naturally to me. I don’t know if I’m good at it or not, but it comes naturally to me. So I was like, yeah, I’d love to. My wife had kept a blog during my actual treatment. It was a great way for us to keep family and friends informed, and to keep fans of the show informed of just how I was doing, what I was doing, and how treatment was going. Once I started recovering the blog posts became less and less frequent, or infrequent just because of the nature. There was not that much to update on once we put some distance between myself and the major part of my treatment. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve come a long way. I want people to read and enjoy the book, but most of all I want people to be able to look at it when they’re going through anything difficult, whether it’s cancer, be it theirs, a loved one’s, or be it any difficult situation. There’s stuff in there that can help anyone.
How did the diagnosis change the way you approached your life?
It didn’t really change the way I approached life, which is a maybe a chicken and the egg type of thing because I’m a pretty positive person, that’s just sort of the way I am. When it came time to get treated for brain cancer and I was told initially that I had six months to a year to live, my first thought, my very first thought was holy shit, then my next thought was that’s not going to be me. We’ll figure out a way to deal with this, even though the odds were obviously against me. I don’t know if the positivity helped get me through it, or if I got through it because of the positivity, or if the positivity came from getting through it. I don’t know if it’s one way or the other, but looking back on it now that I have some distance between myself and the major part of my sickness, it does make me appreciate things a bit more. It makes me appreciate, in a way almost, the cancer, because it gave me new ways to look at things in my life, valuing certain things over others. I don’t get worked up over lots of things because, frankly, if I got into a car accident tomorrow it wouldn’t be the worst thing that’s happened in my life. That would be the day I got diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. So it gives you a new perspective on things. At the same time it’s nice, when having dealt with those major issues in your life, to be able to worry about the little things again. It’s nice to be frustrated that the mail man didn’t take your letter or something like that, it’s nice to be able to worry about little things as opposed to big things.
What are you looking for readers to gain from your book?
Number one, I hope they find it to be a good story because it’s my story. I was diagnosed when I was engaged and it’s the story of my wife and I getting married through this horrible circumstance. It’s our love story with this dramatic story as a back drop, but I hope people are inspired. I hope they laugh, but I hope they find it poignant as well. I hope they find it helpful because whether they have cancer, a serious condition or problem in their lives, or something that’s heavy and takes them fighting through, hopefully there’s some good tips in there and some inspiration. At the very least they can laugh at some jokes.
How did comedy help during your treatment?
Comedy helps in any situation, it’s like the pin that pops the balloon when it gets too full and gets too much pressure. Cancer is very serious, and everything around it is very serious and it helped in many situations where I’d be in the infusion center or the radiation center waiting to get chemo therapy or radiation or something and everyone was just so serious. Even the techs, the people who work the machines, the nurses, everyone. They’re surrounded by so much sickness, sadness and empathy. They feel for their patients because they see them regularly, sometimes every day, sometimes for multiple hours a day, but they’re human beings too, and they need to laugh. So if I can crack a joke or just make light of a situation, and not take myself too seriously, then I’ve lightened up their day or I’ve lightened up the mood, and everyone sort of relaxes a bit. Luckily I’ve been around comedy enough to where it comes naturally in these uncomfortable situations.
What was the most enjoyable part of putting this book together?
Probably writing the words “the end” was the best part. It was so long and so hard to write. The best part, honestly, to me, it was very cathartic. Reliving a lot of the emotions associated with everything: my diagnosis, telling my friends and family, going through the treatment, when things got worse after the treatment started. They didn’t get better right away they got much worse. Reliving the good moments too, when we started to get good news that my tumor was shrinking, it was nice to relive all of that and very cathartic to put it in its place. To me, I recognize that I am very lucky to have this forum to put forth my legacy as it were. I don’t think a lot of people in my position who have cancer, or any serious illness have that forum, they just don’t have the opportunity to write a book. Whether they can’t do it, or they can’t sell it, or whatever it is I recognize how lucky I am. It was cathartic, but it was also very rewarding to be able to share my thoughts, opinions and experiences with the rest of the world.
Because you had that forum did you feel you had an obligation to write this book?
No, but the next thing I was going to say was that I did feel a responsibility to be totally honest, and to talk about all of the ugly parts, and all of the embarrassing parts that maybe didn’t make me look so good. If i’m talking about something that I experienced that maybe didn’t feel flattering, or is something that I didn’t want to brag about. If I experienced it, the chances are that there’s a lot of other people that are experiencing the same thing in my position. If I’m not talking about it then it’s like I’m ignoring it or pretending it didn’t happen so what good am I doing? What purpose am i serving by giving an edited version. I’m not helping people the way I should be.
Was there one part of the book you were dreading putting out there to the public?
The humorous answer is yes. That would be when I pooped my pants, two times. That was very embarrassing and I didn’t look forward to talking about that. There was also, on a more serious note, a period of time where my parents and my wife were not getting along during my treatment and a big part of that is the stress of the situation. To my parents, their son is dying, and to my wife, my brand new wife, we’d been married for a month, her husband is dying. It’s a terrible situation and I didn’t want to write about it. To give you some background, last year I had the opportunity to speak at a cancer conference for young people where I did a breakout session called Just for Guys. It involved a panel for just for guys to talk. It was about 30 cancer patients that wanted to ask us questions and just talk. It was almost universal that so many of those guys have family stress centering with their parents, they have some sort of problem, some sort of stress. They might have moved in with their parents because they were single guys that couldn’t take care of themselves, or there was some stressful situation with their parents. and it was eye opening for me because I had a stressful situation with my parents. I love them dearly, but it was a stressful time in all of our lives. I looked around the room and was shocked that everyone had the same experience I did, with varying details, but a similar situation as me. I thought to myself as I thought about writing the chapter or not that this is a universal theme amongst guys that have cancer, and probably most girls too in our age range, and I would not be telling a true story and not serving a public good if I didn’t write about this. So I left it until the end because I wanted to put it in context, and I wanted to be fair to everyone. I didn’t want anyone coming off looking like a bad guy, I didn’t want to demonize my wife, my parents, or anybody. The truth is no one was at fault, if anything it was cancer’s fault, otherwise we would have all gone along and had a wonderful life together because we all got along. But we’re stronger for it, and we’re better for it. It sucks we had to go through it, but I definitely didn’t look forward to writing that.
Based on everything you’ve learned thus far through your life, what tips do you have for young people starting their careers?
I basically was being treated intensively for a year and it took me another year to recover. My speech was really bad, and obviously I’m a podcaster, so the idea that I may never work again in radio or podcasting was very scary to me, but the thing that I learned before all of this that really was solidified after this was that if you’re talented and you’re hardworking things will almost always work out for you. That is a winning combination. I had a friend who was a news reporter for a local station here, and he got laid off when the economy wasn’t doing so well in 2008 or 2009 and I said, “man you’re talented and you’re hard working, it’s going to work out for you.” Now, he has a much better job, he’s syndicated, he’s doing great and that’s how it was for me, obviously in a different circumstance. When I wasn’t able to annunciate myself or even talk in an intelligible way, luckily I started to recover. Once I got to the point where I was recovered enough so I could go back to work, hopefully I’m talented, I know that I’m hard working, so that combination lead me from one point where I was looking at it as I may never work in this industry again, to making my way back. It was a really fulfilling experience for me. I obviously owe a lot to a lot of people that got me to this place, but if you’re talented and hard working I would tell any young person that things will probably work out for you. Work as hard as you can to make it happen.
Bryan’s new book Shrinkage: Manhood, Marriage, and the Tumor That Tried to Kill Me is out on April 29th. For more Bryan be sure to subscribe to The Adam Carolla Show podcast.