Simon Bray: Beating the Odds

October 2, 2017 | by Abe Rosenberg

Simon Bray Multiple Myeloma 2 | City of Hope Multiple myeloma patient Simon Bray
Simon Bray grew up around horses and horse racing. As a boy in Hertford, England, he eagerly embraced the "sport of kings" as a kind of family business.
 
"My father owned thoroughbreds and I was hooked at an early age," he said.
 
Bray spent his school vacations at the track, working in his dad's stable, first as a groom, eventually rising to assistant trainer.
 
He moved to the U.S. as a young 20-something and quickly connected with the American racing scene. Within a decade he was a top trainer running his own stable and turning out champions.
 
Bray switched careers (sort of) in 2004, taking his horse sense to television's TVG channel, where he's part racing insider and part educator, teaching his audience the finer points of the Daily Double and the Pick 5. In one of his favorite videos, Bray demonstrates how to beat the odds and pick a 7-1 winner.
 
Of course, none of this explains why we're telling Simon's story here. Rather, it's the newest part of his public career, evident on his Twitter page:
 
"Simon Bray @SimonTVG: Grade 1 winning trainer and current on-air analyst for TVG and JC Tour on FOX Sports 1. Multiple Myeloma survivor.”
 
Bray got the unwelcome and totally unexpected news in June 2015.
 
He'd been ignoring a chronic backache for months until one day in the gym, Bray, a serious fitness advocate, fractured a vertebra. Puzzled by the unusual workout injury, doctors ran a bunch of tests, which revealed multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable blood cancer which, among other things, weakens the bones.
 
“I'd never even heard of multiple myeloma,” Bray recalled. “It was terrifying.”
 
Sharing the news with his TVG viewers, Bray said the diagnosis “turned my life upside down in an instant.” He was only 46, decades younger than the typical myeloma patient. His son Oliver was not yet 3. A baby daughter was due in a month. “Obviously this has been very hard to come to terms with,” he continued in his statement, “but my primary focus will now be fighting the disease.”
 
Viewers and colleagues were moved. Fellow TVG personalities Todd Schrupp and former L.A. Dodgers catcher Paul Lo Duca struggled to contain their emotions. TVG established a matching fund which raised tens of thousands of dollars in a matter of hours for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF).
 
Family connections led Bray to City of Hope where he met Amrita Krishnan, M.D., director of the Judy and Bernard Briskin Center for Multiple Myeloma Research. Krishnan is a world-class myeloma expert whom Bray now includes with wife Danielle as one of “the two most important women in my life.”
 
Simon Bray Multiple Myeloma | City of Hope Bray and his family
Krishnan impressed Bray immediately with her broad knowledge, her resoluteness and her certainty about the proper course of treatment. She felt Bray's unusually young age and fitness would work in his favor.
 
“I have had younger patients than him,” she recalls, “though of course being so young leads one to consider an aggressive approach.”
 
But first, there was a broken vertebra to repair.
 
“I was in a back brace, facing surgery in a few weeks,” recalled Bray. “I was worried about delaying the myeloma treatment that long, but Dr. Krishnan reassured me.”
 
He endured the complex surgery, as well as the “dark days” that followed, brightened by the birth of daughter Jolie in late July.
 
When his myeloma treatment began a few weeks later, it would run the gamut from radiation to four months of chemotherapy to a stem cell transplant, scheduled for January 2016.
 
“The transplant was my biggest fear,” he said. “I'd read about all the 'bad stuff' that could go wrong.”
 
Instead, everything went remarkably right. Bray spent just 13 days in the hospital.
 
The treatments did their job. Bray, now in remission and on a chemo maintenance protocol, said he “feels good.” He's back at work. His follow-up visits to City of Hope, originally once a week, are down to once a month. The myeloma cell ratio in his bone marrow, once as high as 75 percent, is now effectively zero.
 
Bray heaps praise on Krishnan and the entire City of Hope staff, for their “body and soul” care.
 
It's amazing how well you're treated there,” he marveled. “From the first day, everyone is incredibly accommodating. Everything is so well-organized, the care so seamless, so you never have to think about it. This enormous facility really does feel like a family-run clinic.”
 
His decision to go public about his disease has given Bray his newest role as the next high-profile myeloma survivor, spokesperson and source of inspiration.
 
Krishnan-Amrita Amrita Krishnan, M.D.
“I read Tom Brokaw's book in the hospital,” he said, referring to the NBC anchor who was diagnosed in 2013 and wrote A Lucky Life, Interrupted,about his myeloma journey. Brokaw's story raised awareness of this little-known disease, and now it's Bray's turn: He hears constantly from people impressed by the horse racing pro on TV who's found a new way to beat the odds.
 
Or at least, to get the best odds he can.
 
“Multiple myeloma is a special cancer in that it's not curable, so there's really no way to beat it, for now,” he said. “For somebody who deals with odds for a living and tries to beat them, I don't believe I have beaten them just yet. However, I like my odds going forward.”
 
Bray takes his new responsibility seriously, participating in MMRF's 5k race (chaired by Krishnan) and City of Hope's semiannual gathering honoring the Briskin family and updating them on the center's work. Krishnan recruited him for both events and discovered that the two of them make a formidable PR team.
 
“He has a very positive attitude and he's a role model for other patients,” Krishnan said, praising Bray's courage as a public figure speaking openly about his illness.
 
“I love it!” Bray exclaimed, adding that those Briskin updates “allow me to see how close we're getting to a cure, and that does a great deal for me mentally.”
 
And the 5k?
 
“This year,” smiles Krishnan, “I'm going to beat him!”
 
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