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Multiple myeloma treatment leads to new perspectives for Simon Bray

Simon Bray was midway through his workout at the gym when he bent down and heard a crack, followed by a feeling of excruciating pain. His back had broken, but he wouldn’t learn that for weeks. It was 2015, and his arduous journey with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, had just begun.
Fast forward to the summer of 2020. Amrita Krishnan, M.D., an internationally recognized multiple myeloma expert at City of Hope | Newport Beach and director of the Judy and Bernard Briskin Center for Multiple Myeloma Research, gave him the good news he had worked so hard for. He was in remission, although his numbers have recently spiked again.
It’s a constant fight that requires hard work, patience and retaining a positive attitude, buffered by hope. Bray’s journey has included back reconstruction surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.
These days, Bray is back working for the TVG Network, broadcasting live from his home and providing analysis for horse races. Recently, Bray took time to speak with City of Hope about his treatment, his health, living with myeloma in the midst of a pandemic and how his outlook on life has changed. In addition to describing the struggles and successes, Bray also offers advice for others going through treatment.
City of Hope: The first real symptom that something was wrong was a back injury, correct?
Bray: Yes. It finally reached its nadir at one point about 2:30 in the morning. I'd rolled over in bed, and my wife was kind of close to me. I moved and then I just let out this massive scream. The pain just went from a 7 out of 10 to about 15 out of 10. I subsequently found out what had happened. My vertebrate was already broken, but it completely collapsed at that point. The rest of it just crumbled and gave way.
City of Hope: After you were diagnosed with multiple myeloma, what happened next?
Bray: Those were probably some of the darkest times for me, because I'd been told I had cancer, but I wasn't treating it. I had to go through the surgery first before I was allowed to have the treatment. As a new cancer patient, you don't really understand. Going through my head at the time was, "I've got the back fixed," but I still had visions in my head of the cancer just eating away at the rest of my bones before I could start treatment two to three months later. In hindsight, those two to three months didn't make a big difference. But when you're a new patient, all those chaotic thoughts start going through your head.
City of Hope: Did you find ways to start alleviating those concerns?
Bray: I always say the two most important people in my life, other than my children, are my wife and Dr. Krishnan. She diagnosed me and set out the treatment plan that said, "This is what we're going to do. This is what you have to do." So, the way I put my concerns to rest was to walk away thinking, “You're getting on a train at the station, and you have to just get onboard and ride the train. Otherwise, you'll be left at the platform.”
But you can make things hard on yourself then if you don’t keep the train going the right speed, so to speak. I found this out in December 2015 when Dr. Krishnan told me, "You've got to have a stem cell transplant in January." I had been scared about stem cell transplants because I didn’t know anything about them, and so I had done something I now recommend against: I became Dr. Google and started devouring anything and everything I could find online about them, and I ended up confusing myself.
In retrospect, I shouldn't have read so much online from sources that didn’t know a thing about me or my individual condition, unlike Dr. Krishnan, who couldn’t have had a deeper understanding of what I needed. I caused myself unnecessary confusion. And despite all the fear and trepidation, the transplant turned out to be one of the easiest things I went through.
City of Hope: Is there anything else that you felt helped in undergoing any of your treatments?
Bray: It can feel like an insurmountable task when you've been told you've got cancer. I told myself, “You're doing this for the next 20 months.” Then I broke it down into segments. I will get through one appointment on Tuesday, and I would say, okay, I just have to get to next Tuesday. And then I get through that, and I get to next Tuesday, and I have to get to the next Tuesday and the next Tuesday. And once I'm done with all those, then it's the transplant.
City of Hope: Cancer patients are at a greater risk from COVID-19 because they usually have compromised immune systems. What sort of precautions have you taken?
Bray: We're very, very careful. My wife and I have worked from home exclusively and have limited all social activities for our family. Prior to COVID, I'd been hospitalized two or three times with fever because I have young kids. My son and daughter are young. They obviously bring germs home, so we’ve had to be exceptionally careful about school and sports, and have strongly supported masks and constant hand washing.
City of Hope: People talk about how the pandemic has changed their perspectives on life. Where do you find your life perspective these days?
Bray: I was pretty focused on work. We had made this decision to start a family, and then I got cancer, and it shifted the work-life balance for me, fairly considerably. It used to be that work was number one, work was number two, and maybe family life and vacations were number three. Now, it's family first. Being home during the pandemic has only helped reinforce this for me.
City of Hope: What you have learned from all of this?
Bray: It's very taxing, mentally more than physically, to have cancer and everything it entails in front of you. And it was scary. You get thrown all this information. You need radiation. You need chemo. You need a stem cell transplant. Then, you're back on chemo, and it's like, “Oh my gosh. This is a year, a year and a half before I see any light at the end of the tunnel, on top of back surgery!”
But I think for me to have the best hope and the way I managed it, I had to go to City of Hope every single week for nearly 20 months. I mean, without fail, I practically didn't leave. That's basically the only place I went for a year and a half. It was just, every Tuesday, you're going to come. You're going to get the treatment. You're going to see Dr. Krishnan.
My best advice to anyone who is starting their cancer journey is that, in the end, you have to remind yourself that this isn’t a race. It’s the daily grind of doing everything you can to take care of yourself, while at the same time making sure to partner with a cancer specialist like I did, someone who will expertly guide you down this new track you find yourself on and be there with you from milestone to milestone, every step of the way.
Discover world-class cancer care at City of Hope | Newport Beach, home to renowned cancer specialists with unique expertise, backed by our pioneering research and delivered with uncompromising compassion. Call 949-763-2204 or click here to make an appointment.