Michael Bischoff was busy living. A wife. Two kids. His own consulting business teaching nonprofit groups how to collaborate more effectively.
Last fall, incessant headaches sent him to a neurologist's office. Life dropped a bomb when an MRI confirmed a tumor was growing on his brain. Surgeons cut him open the following week. Tests soon confirmed its malignancy.
Bischoff didn't turtle up to brain cancer. He decided instead to put it out there for all to read. The day after he was told that a disease had invaded his body, the 44-year-old began an online journal. He hasn't stopped writing since.
"At first, I did it to let the people know who I'm connected with and care about for practical reasons," he says. "Then I realized the more I did it, the more strength I took from it."
His journal that began in late September with the headline "The adventure begins."
Some entries are simply updates: "Happily back home," he wrote in October. "Leaking and swelling stopped. Best night of sleep since the initial surgery. If the wounds stay sealed up, we'll restart radiation and chemo on Monday."
Others are more cerebral: "I have been reminded many times in the past two weeks that it is possible to live in this depth of love and generosity at other times, with the help and grace of others. Despite my discomfort, it has been made clear to me many times recently that my main job now is to fully receive and savor these gifts. Most of my life, I have been much more comfortable being useful and contributing to others than I have been receiving from others. I have the opportunity to be frail, dependent, and broken open, and to learn new kinds of openness and giving in that weakness."
Bischoff understands why people retreat and make confronting a disease a private battle. Withdrawal was his natural reaction when the news first broke. Writing mitigated that instinct. Without life's usual rituals like the work day, words provided connection and purpose.
"I have selfish reasons too for doing it," he says.
More than 100 people gathered for two different events since Bischoff's "adventure" began. Part talent show, part healing session, they were held to support Bischoff's journey back to wellness. At the same time, they served as a forum for collective healing.
Not long ago, someone shared a little nugget of wisdom with Bischoff: "Nothing is scary as long as we do it with others."
A yearlong regimen of chemo started last week. Five days in a row of treatment followed by 23 days off.
On an overcast winter day, Bischoff's body feels about the same. It's the fogginess of chemo.
"Writing about what's been happening in my life has forced me to have a connection," he says. "In the process, I've been surprised by how all of us are connected through healing. Everyone in their own way needs it. There are things in life that might be scary, but it lightens the load when we face them by including so many others."