‘Bald’ Bryan Bishop’s ‘Inconvenient’ Brain Tumor
Christie Bishop And Bryan Bishop "Do" | Photo by Anna Kuperberg / used with permission
Colored lights flared and strobes flashed. Dozens of exotic dancers gyrated and jiggled as music suited for getting undressed pulsed through Las Vegas’ Spearmint Rhino.
Thirty year-old Bryan Bishop, or “Bald Bryan” as he’s known to listeners of The Adam Carolla Show, and now The Adam Carolla Podcast, opened a tiny plastic baggy and slushed back a pill with his ice-cold vodka and Red Bull.
A glittery stripper expressed her curiosity for what she assumed was Bishop kicking his Bachelor Party revelry up a notch.
“Nothing fun, Sweetie. Nothing you want,” he replied of his oral chemotherapy.
The next week he would marry Christie Clough, also 30, now Christie Bishop, in Napa Valley.
Less than two months prior to their nuptials, and nearly five months ago, Bishop was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor called a Low-Grade Glioma. Because of its location, doctors are unable to operate on it, but have prescribed chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
In sickness and in health.
The Morning Shift
Bald Bryan was a sound-effects wizard, and ultra quick-witted third-man, to Adam Carolla, and co-host Teresa Strasser, on the highly-rated morning show which bettered the morning commute of over a million people. The hilariously smart program was of rare caliber.
“Bryan's mind is so quick and creative that often guests would stop in the middle of an interview to ask, ‘How are you playing those sounds so fast?’, recalled Strasser of his drops. “It never failed to impress people, even Adam and me, who experienced him every day.”
When the economy dove, CBS Radio’s desire to reduce costs soared. “They cut loose Adam, and Tom Leykis, and all of the big money earners around the same time,” Bryan said. CBS Radio replaced their highly-paid talkers in Los Angeles with a Top 40 station which resembled a teenager’s iPod.
Photo courtesy Christie Bishop / used with permission
Christie’s job as an advertising executive was soon to end as well. “I got laid off on Tuesday and on Friday he was telling me, ‘I’m sick,’” she said.
Bryan’s lips, tongue, and the right side of his face would tingle. He would get dizzy to the where he had to grip a wall just to walk. After five months of these issues, increasing in both frequency and intensity, he saw a few doctors, eventually landing on the diagnosis now being treated.
With no history of cancer in his family, and in strong health, the couple was shocked. But that didn't stop them from acting quickly. Within a week of diagnosis, he was battling his brain tumor.
“I have all of the things you would need to fight this thing,” Bryan said. “I can’t explain it medically but I feel like if you were to design someone to fight a brain tumor you’d want them to be young -- about 30 years old, in good shape, with a really strong network of family and friends, and an amazing caregiver.”
“Early on, he looked at me and said ‘I was born to defeat this,’” recalled Christie.
Of all possible cancer treatment concerns, he never had to worry about it taking his hair. It was long gone.
Wine Country Nuptials
For their first dance, they surprised friends and family alike with Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” “You danced like hell for the Rickroll,” Christie said to her husband. “You shook your booty. It was perfect.”
“It went off without a hitch. It was the best three-four days ever.”
The wedding came after Bryan had finished six intense weeks of radiation, and having been on chemotherapy for two months. Both treatments had given Bryan a host of new symptoms which, while they were fighting his tumor, made formerly-simple aspects of life quite trying.
“When they were saying their wedding vows, I looked closely and noticed that Christie was steadying Bryan, but doing so in a way that made it look like he was balancing on his own, that they were just holding hands,” said his former breakfast-time colleague, Teresa Strasser. “It was one of the most touching things I have ever seen.”
Their apartment is a short walk from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the West Hollywood super-hospital. That's where, world-class neurosurgeon, Keith Black's team of neuro and radiation oncologists treat Bryan. The same medical campus conveniently houses Bryan’s various treatment centers.
“We are so lucky,” she said, of their proximity to Cedars, a hospital which draws from a global pool of patients who seek renowned care. “We met people from Israel, Jamaica, London, and Mexico City.”
They Give Hope
One of Christie’s plans for her post-advertising life was to start a food blog. Instead of detailing her palate’s adventures through the sweet and savory, she started another blog in April.
“I said, ‘I’m going to start this blog and start telling our story.’ I don’t know why, I was just compelled to do it. For some reason, ‘An Inconvenient Tumor’ just kept coming in my head." The title is a nod to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”
In it, Christie details a long journey in a short time. Her wonderfully effective writing tells of a couple you want to continue reading about. There’s hope, and strength, and, while not always happy, she never loses her sense of humor. The blog's posts transcend medical issues and illustrate true love's deepest meaning.
“I love reading her posts,” Bryan said.
“It’s cathartic for me,” Christie said. “And I want to look back at our story and see how we progressed and to remember things.”
"People are finding a lot of inspiration and a lot of healing from the way we’re approaching this disease."
The blog that she typically writes from their living room couch, while her husband naps, laptop resting on his legs, has found a global audience. An Inconvenient Tumor has received over 215,000 page views.
A Really Strong Network
One of their strongest supporters is Bryan’s old boss, Adam Carolla. He recalled that Carolla, an automobile enthusiast of the highest order, said: “Bryan I will be your guardian angel. I will do whatever it takes. If you need me to sell a car, I will sell a car.”
“So sweet,” Bryan recalled, choked up.
Photo by Anna Kuperberg / used with permission
“He has not cried this entire time except for when Adam offered to sell a car,” said Christie. “Adam cares so much about Bryan, he loves Bryan. It’s a really special relationship”
“It was a really sweet gesture,” Bryan said, deeper into his choking-up. Even a casual Carolla listener would recognize this expression’s deepest nature.
“We have incredibly tight-knit families,” Christie said of her and Bryan’s relatives. “They’ve been the best.” And their friends have been “generous and consistently helpful in an extended family kind of way. We have the most amazing group of friends ever.”
“We come from a very large network of friends who met in college,” said long-time friend of the couple, Catie Casazza. “We all knew that Bryan and Christie were both out of work and we knew that it’s going to take more than just our love to help get them through this.”
One of Christie’s blog entries, Beers for Bryan, tells of a time early into their journey. “It was another night of hanging out, pizza, and having a good time,” she said. “We counted the next morning and it blew us away. They shoved $1,300 in that little piggy bank.”
“If the situation were reversed, they would be doing the exact same thing for us,” said Casazza.
They Receive Hope
An around-the-clock source of strength comes from unseen supporters on the Internet, whether they have combated disease, or just want the newlyweds to know that they’re loved.
“People bare their heart and soul,” Christie said. “That gives us hope. We sit and cry through these emails. I think the blog and the people on there are helping us just as much as we’re helping them.”
They "comment that they have been through this before -- ‘this is exactly how it should happen, this is what I went through too, just be patient, be strong, keep on keeping on.’”
“It’s so neat hearing, ‘hey man, kick butt,'" said Bryan. "I used to coach high school football, and it’s cool to get that ra-ra reinforcement. I really do appreciate all of the emails. Keep rooting for me.”
“It really restores your faith in humanity, because when you’re jaded in the world of radio, or jaded in the world of advertising, you realize what life and priorities are all about,” said Christie. She has highlighted some of their favorite letters and cards on a new blog, P.O. Box 352351.
“It takes us some time but we write thank you emails to every single person who sends a donation.” The couple have been receiving donations through PayPal. “We have donations ranging from $1.18 to $100. It ads up.”
One emailer wrote to them, of them, “thanks to two of the nicest people we’ve never met.”
“That’s how we feel too,” Christie said of their supportive cyber-community.
“My cycle is five days out of the month for the next however long,” Bryan said of his future chemotherapy. There are also MRIs every two months, two blood tests each month, more doctor visits and plenty of rehabilitative therapy -- speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
During a recent stretch, Bryan had a string of troubling bad days. Motor skills and coordination became more of a chore, and he was fatigued like never before. Unfortunate falls became regular.
Christie recalled a night where her husband tumbled on the way to the bathroom.
“I was getting there,” Bryan replied dryly.
“On your stomach,” Christie reminded him.
“I was doing a belly-crawl,” Bryan, ever the GI Joe fan, chimed in, before expelling a half-laugh.
To address these circumstances, he began receiving Avastin, an infused drug which is administered in the hospital over a couple of hours. It’s done the trick. His energy has been up and his balance has seen great progress. Christie blogged about this boost getting them back in a "let's kick some cancer ass mindframe.”
“I can't imagine how frustrating it would be to have a mind that agile and a body that can't keep up with it right now,” said Teresa Strasser. “That's something few of us can imagine.”
"What are you going to do, man? There’s definitely bad days," Bryan said. "I’m not going to lie.“
An Amazing Caregiver
Last month, Christie found herself blogging from a hospital. This wasn’t new except that she was the patient.
“Christie became pretty sick with the stress of everything, it exacerbated a condition she already had,” said friend Catie Casazza.
Christie’s severe colitis required a few days of hospitalization. Somehow she found the strength to blog. Certain entries were typed with one hand, as her opposing arm was restricted by an IV.
“It’s impossible to overstate how amazing Christie’s been in this thing,” Bryan said “I’m blown away every day. Plus, the fact that it goes on without being discussed or asked. It’s amazing.”
“I knew Christie was smart and motivated, but the way she has risen to the challenges Bryan's cancer presents are beyond strong and graceful, they are remarkable,” said Teresa Strasser. “I keep thinking about their future, and how going through together is going to create a bond few couples share."
Bryan’s health care plan expires in November, and a helpful government subsidy will do the same in November.
“Finding insurance for this pre-existing condition, that’s so terrifying I can’t even explain it to you,” Christie said. “I’m sure it’ll all work out, but we don’t know what the right answer is yet. We just started getting our bills and they are not cheap. Chemo pills are a good $12-$13,000 for a series.”
Carolla’s made mention on his podcast of a fundraiser for the couple which will feature top comedians and possibly a big-name rock band. Should you attend, think twice about buying Bryan a drink.
“I get buzzed pretty easily,” he said. “One drink feels like three.” Though his doctor has given booze the green light.
“It’s so weird that he got laid off, then I got laid off, then he was diagnosed ,” Christie said. “This is where our life is taking us right now, and we’re taking it as it comes, and trying to be as positive as we can. That’s all you can do.”
“What’s the alternative? You’re just going to bury yourself in your own pity,” Bryan said.
His doctors believe he on the right path, though they can't see the evidence just yet. One effect of radiation is that it aggravates the tumor, causing it to swell for months. That prevents MRIs from revealing if the tumor is shrinking or growing.
The couple next looks forward to Saturday’s USC Trojans vs. Ohio State Buckeyes football game, and Bryan’s 31st birthday on Sunday. They'll be roaring on USC, their alma mater.
Of course, there’s more about that on An Inconvenient Tumor.
“Life is about being together and being in love and helping each other,” Christie said. “No one knows how long they’re going to have on this planet. It sounds so cliche and stupid to say, but if I died tomorrow and they said ‘do you wish you worked more?’”
“No, I don’t.”