Every oncologist, cancer center and, really, anyplace that treats people for chronic and critical illness should buy a case of Bryan Bishop’s “Shrinkage” and hand them out to people who face a long, hard and potentially losing battle with disease.
Bishop is best-known as the sound effects man for “The Adam Carolla Show” podcast. He also lives with an inoperable brain tumor kept in check by regular infusions of a new medicine. “Shrinkage” details his life from diagnosis in April 2009 to survival through a hellish year of treatment.
Bishop, called Bald Bryan by Carolla, was 30 years old and planning to marry his girlfriend, Christie, at the time his tumor was discovered. He writes of the stress and struggle to plan the rest of his life with Christie while realizing his forever might be sharply truncated by the tumor growing in his brain.
“Shrinkage” starts slow and gives too much detail on Bishop’s early life. His love of his college fraternity doesn’t move the story forward and it takes too long to get to the meat of the story: fighting a brain tumor. Similarly, the chapters on music playlists for radiation treatment and music at the wedding seemed to drag into minutia, though the idea of assembling uplifting music has merit even if Bishop is somewhat overbearing in his musical tastes.
Bishop’s prose is true to his on-podcast voice and that’s an accomplishment. The book reads like a long, amiable conversation with a friend about the toughest year in his life. His jokes are sometimes amusing, but his use of footnotes to deliver asides and one-liners is annoying and distracting to a reader who wants to move forward with the story.
“Shrinkage” could have used more detailed description — more show, less tell. Still, precise recollections are difficult to come by when one has a brain swollen by treatment and abused by a growing tumor.
But he does not spare the reader the occasional specifics from the darkest days, such as defecating on himself and being so weak and helpless his wife had to clean him. It’s a nightmare, but an excellent use of telling detail to show just how low the disease brought him.
His love of his wife is clear, as is her unwavering dedication to him. Perhaps his most admirable chapter comes when he describes the tensions that grew between his wife and parents during his recovery. The stress chronic illness puts on all branches of families is intense and Bishop’s refusal to gloss over that is much to his credit.
Bishop discusses the financial strain as well and how he got through them. His buddy Carolla headlined a fundraiser — organized by a fan — that raised six figures. Most fighting cancer don’t have celebrity friends who can sell out a 1,200-seat theater to see top comedians and rock bands — and sell more copies of the recording on the Web.
Still, it’s an example of Bishop and his family and friends using every available resource to fight a disease that is mentally, physically, emotionally and financially devastating. While most cancer patients can’t host a celebrity benefit, the newspaper and community calendar are often filled with fundraising spaghetti dinners for families in various stages of recovery from sundry ailments.
The real benefit to reading Bishop’s book is how he embraces positive thinking. Attitude is an important part of the healing and recovery process. Bishop recognizes this early in his battle and grips it strong, through meditation and a constant mantra of “I will get better.”