My Cancer Story

Going Public: the Decision to be Open

Posted 16 April 2016

Today I posted for the first time on social media about my cancer.

The response was swift and heartwarming. I received personal messages from many people I worked with 10 to 30 years ago. These are connections that would never have been made without social media.

I have never been very active on social media, though I have done a modest job of building a set of connections. During the 1990s, I got to know thousands of people in Silicon Valley and in the broader semiconductor and computer industries, as well as in technology publishing.

It is a pity that LinkedIn didn’t exist in the 90s; I would have many thousands of connections from the 13 years I spent writing technical articles, attending industry events, presenting conferences and seminars, and consulting to the semiconductor industry.

Fortunately, I have been able to connect on either Facebook or LinkedIn with hundreds of my former colleagues over the years. Even though my social network activity is low, as is that of many of my connections, this precious resource of connections has been quietly waiting, and now I have some things to share.

With today’s posting (reproduced at the end of this post), my network has come to life, connecting me with all sorts of people I might otherwise never have had contact with again. I’m sure I’ll hear from many more in the coming days.

For the first time in the dozen or so years of their existence, social networks are actually making a meaningful difference to me.

Being Open

There is a natural instinct for privacy among most people, I suspect, when it comes to serious health issues. Several people have commented about how brave it is for me to be so open.

It has been a long process for me to get to this point, but it doesn’t feel like bravery — it just feels like the natural thing to do.

I used to be a pretty private person. I didn’t talk about my health. I never tried to share my life on social media. I have thousands of business acquaintances, but few close friends.

During the course of the past several decades, I’ve engaged in various kinds of therapy, self-development work, and reading, and all of that brought me to a place where I was comfortable being pretty open.

(Brene Brown’s work has been most influential for me in recent years. If you aren’t familiar with her, I encourage you to spend the next 20 minutes watching The Power of Vulnerability.)

Everything Looks Different Post-Diagnosis

While all of this personal development is important, what really enabled me to feel comfortable being very open was the simple fact that I was no longer concerned about the future.

I do care about my personal future, of course, in terms of my experiences and my family. But I don’t care about how other people perceive me because I don’t expect to ever again look for a job, pitch an investor, or sell anyone anything.

What matters to me now is leaving behind as much as I can in a way that may be helpful, or at least interesting, to my family and friends (and perhaps even the broader public, though that is not my goal).

With the death of my mother and step-father in recent years, it struck me how a person’s stories are lost upon their death, if they haven’t written them down or recorded them. I want no barriers to openness and transparency now, as my goals are to tell my childhood, family, and business stories, and hopefully to pass along some wisdom.

My cancer treatment gave me a rich body of experiences that I felt compelled to share. I distracted myself from my various discomforts by learning about the drugs and technologies being used on me. Given my background, it came naturally to play the analyst and write up some mini-tutorials, combined with my personal experiences.

The cancer-related articles will, I hope, become less frequent for a few months, while I enjoy whatever period of remission the radiation provides. This shift in focus will give me the mental space to continue my series of essays, begun with Faith and Religion.

I have countless other essays running around in my head, some of which have been circulating there for years. Stay tuned and find out what emerges!

Facebook and LinkedIn Post

Life is so fragile. One day I am cruising along, in my groove with work and family, and then there is this stomach ache… except that it turns out to be an inoperable cancer.

Many of you probably know me from my previous role in the computer industry, writing Microprocessor Report as well as an assortment of columns for industry magazines, from my digital photo work at Fotiva and Adobe, or from web projects at Webvanta.

Sixteen years after leaving Microprocessor Report, I have returned to writing as my primary activity, creating my new website:

The topic is, unfortunately, what it says: parting thoughts.

On November 6 last year, I was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the small intestine. This is a “death sentence” cancer in that treatments are considered palliative, not curative.

This was, of course, a shocking shift in my world. I rethought what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and it came down to two things: connect with people and record my thoughts.

As a result, I’ve been spending my time with many old and new friends, and building as a place for me to record my journey and ideas and to connect with a broader community.

I have been through 12 weeks of chemotherapy and 10 sessions of radiation. Now I am waiting for my end-of-April CT scan to show how much the radiation shrunk the tumor.

What lies next is probably just living well for whatever time there is. Thankfully I’m actually enjoying my life greatly when I’m not feeling too sick, treasuring my time with Irene and my kids.

Note: As part of this process, I have made the difficult decision to seek a buyer for Webvanta. See Webvanta acquisition opportunity.



I wish you all the best Michael and thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts with the rest of us.
Greetings from Greece

Stuart Forrest


I just found your blog and read it from beginning to end. I run a cloud based cms software company in the uk. The chaos of hospital visits struck a chord with me. I have a 15 year old disabled child who is very often admitted to hospital and every doctor that speaks to us asks us to recap her history from birth and writes it down??? You would think it could be more organised than that in the age of computers!

Thanks for sharing your story. I have fingers and toes crossed as I am a non believer too. I hope you keep writing for a long time into the future. Best wishes.


Cant wait to go home and hug my wife… And my cat… And text my parents… And skype with my brother abroad… And finish remaining Pratchett books… Thanks for reminding what actually matters.

Joseph McIntyre

What an amazing post and blog!

I am struck how different the world looks when, as you say so clearly, “I don’t care about how other people perceive me because I don’t expect to ever again look for a job, pitch an investor, or sell anyone anything.” Shifting to legacy/contribution, and using your experience as a gift to others feels, perhaps oddly, life-affirming.

I know, for me, having read each and every post here, you are helping me come to grips with my own emotions about aging and dying. In particular–helping to shove me closer to the same “I don’t care how I am seen/I care what I contribute” frame of being.

Thank you for your candor, your insight, and letting me (and all of us) share in this journey with you. Much love to you, Irene, Gregory, and Amanda. May the light you kindle, illuminate us all.

David Berlind

Michael, I responded on Facebook as you know. But I for one have a question so that we may all learn from you and I apologize in advance if you feel it is too personal. Knowing what you know now, and looking back, what would you have done differently? Or put another way, what should those of us who still have time to change do differently?


This is, of course, an enormous question with many facets, and the answers will be different for everyone. But here’s one simple thought experiment that may get you part of the way there: imagine you’ve just been told you have 6 – 12 months to live. Think through how you would change your life in response. Now, take a look at what you are currently doing, and ask yourself why it is different from the changed life you imagined. Can you move more quickly toward that life, without the horrible burden of an actual cancer diagnosis?

I will be writing much more along these lines. Nothing is too personal. (Well, almost nothing.)

Deb Clayton

Michael – Kip and I look back fondly on good times with you and Irene in California and Minnesota. We’re holding you both in our hearts…Could you send Irene’s cell # and e-mail address? We only have your home address. Thinking of you constantly now….Our love, Deb and Kip

shirley keller

Michael dear, so sorry to hear of your troubles! But somewhat relieved to read you’re making the most of each day . I’m a private person like you so found your experience to open up most interesting , All my love to you and Irene and children. Hope this reaches you because i’m computer ignorant,


Hi Shirley, your comments have been received! I got three of them (they don’t appear until I approve them), and I posted one to the blog.

Comments are closed.