Sep 25, 2020
International business leader Riccardo Braglia has experienced great loss from cancer. But the perspective he gained inspires what he gives to help patients everywhere. Riccardo shares his story with ASCO CEO Cliff Hudis, MD, FACP, FASCO.
PRESENTER 1: When cancer took the life of his best friend, Riccardo Braglia redirected the focus of his international health company to improving treatment for patients with cancer. Then cancer took his mom. Inspired by his mother and the many loved ones he's lost to cancer, he is now a major contributor to cancer research. In this episode of Your Stories, Riccardo talks to his friend and ASCO and Conquer Cancer CEO, Dr. Clifford Hudis, about coping with loss, embracing life's special moments, and what he sees as the future of cancer care.
DR. HUDIS: So Ricardo, we all come to where we are in life from very diverse paths and backgrounds, and we're curious about your childhood, especially given that you grew up in Europe. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like when you grew up and how that relates to where we are today?
RICCARDO BRAGLIA: Yeah, I grew up in Italy in a small village in the countryside of Milan, and my family has been always involved in the pharmaceutical area because my grandfather started these activities after the war. And so that was part of my DNA.
I remember since I was 14, during the summertime, my father said, you cannot do more than two weeks of holidays. The rest should be working in the company. So I started doing warehousing and moving stuff, and then when I was 16, helping to produce tablets, and then when I was 18, going into the labs to understand some chemical things. And then I went to the university, and then my family decided to sell the Italian company. We got to Switzerland, and there was a start up again. And my father and a couple of other friends started a company from scratch in the 70s, and then I was involved in that.
Then I will into oncology. That is, what is today my company, but also my focus of life was mainly due to two major events. One was the death of my best friend. He died by multiple myeloma. I was shocked not just by the death but by the side effects of the chemotherapy and by all this stuff that is linked to the illness itself and to the therapy. So I refocused my company from anti-inflammatory, and gastrointestinal, and antibody area to oncology.
And the second one has being that my family, unfortunately, is a family that die of cancer. My grandmother, my grandfather, my mother, my two uncle, my aunts, and unfortunately, now my last aunt also has a very bad pancreatic cancer. So my family has definitely been affected by this terrible disease.
DR. HUDIS: Now, I know your mother's death was a particularly difficult one for you, and I'm curious if you can talk a little bit about your relationship with your mother, how close you felt to her.
RICCARDO BRAGLIA: I'm the older boy of a family of two sons, and of course, Mom is Mom. And my father, being an entrepreneur, was always out of the house, especially when I was young, so all my values and education was really linked to my mom. I then went to school, then to university, then starting business, and then creating my family. I married, two sons, too. And of course, the relationship with my mom was a little bit more away. I see her on weekends or on holidays, not in daily life like when you're a kid, which is normal for any families.
Then what happened-- unfortunately, four years ago she get ovarian cancer, and then immediately diagnosed with multiple metastases almost everywhere in her body and was immediately going into palliative care. And she died four months after, but in these four months I dedicated to my mom every single day, in the morning, in the evening, at lunchtime and really recreated this feeling that we had when I was a child.
And this relationship really evolved back again, and we have some very good moments in the morning, waking her up, and trying to get out of the bed, and also spending time, and praying together, and creating our faith again. So in the bad news that she passed away, the good news is that she inspired me to do what I'm doing every day. I'm fighting against cancer.
DR. HUDIS: Every family that experiences cancer probably experiences it in some uniquely different way, different ages, different family members, different kinds of cancer, different journeys, and you've described a bit of that journey. I wonder if there's any aspect of this that you would talk about in terms of the broader impact on your family, not just on you but on your siblings and the other generations around your mother.
RICCARDO BRAGLIA: The first reaction was, we don't have the illness. My mother will survive. Even though it was very clear there was no chance, that was the first reaction. And then the situation was that the family get back together and we trying to create a kind of team to support my mother and my father. So it was a kind of group getting together, and even my two sons at the time were at university, they spent a lot of time coming back and supporting my mom, and staying with her, and talking with her. So it's creating a kind of defense unit around this kind of thing, which I think was a good approach, and everybody was involved a little bit on supporting and creating a team around that.
DR. HUDIS: So it sounds to me, from what you describe, that in some cases a strong family can be both made stronger and have a positive response, but I imagine for many families this is a much bigger stress if they don't have a foundation of strength and connectedness.
RICCARDO BRAGLIA: If you have not a good family background or family strength, that could be a challenge, and especially if you have a family which lives very far away, this could be a very big stress. You need people that give you love and support you through this journey. What I consider very important is to have faith, which doesn't mean to have faith in one specific religion but to have more faith on a spiritual point of view, which helps you to face everyday steps. If you don't have a strong family or a family close by, identify maybe a couple of good friends that could support you through this journey.
DR. HUDIS: I'm curious as a donor, how do you measure that return on investment?
RICCARDO BRAGLIA: Of course, research is a difficult field to have immediately a return on investment, but if you select promising, high-quality researcher [INAUDIBLE] great ideas, this is a really wide possibility of return and having good result. So identifying the best people, and monitor their career, and following their career is probably the best way to have results.
DR. HUDIS: As a supporter philanthropically of research, surely you must have a vision about where you think our field should be headed. What do you think cancer care should look like five years, 10 years, 20 years from now?
RICCARDO BRAGLIA: I think that we have to put the patients in the focus. We have to invest in making, hopefully, one day the cancer-free for every cancer, but in the meanwhile, trying to extend the life of these patients in order that the cancer became more a chronic disease. The second point, I think, is to be focused on quality of life of the patients because sometimes we just get new treatment. We extend maybe one month, two months, or three months the life of patients but with a very terrible quality of life.
So when my mother got ill, whatever months or weeks she will live, to do it as the best as possible, without pain, trying to have good food, waking up, moving a little bit, makeup, and looking nicer because these are small things that throughout the journey of cancer is very important to leave better and to live in good quality. Then if you succeed to be a survivor, it means that you fight the cancer and you get a solution. That is the best things. But if you can't, you have to remember only the quality of life of what you are doing because I think the daily life is made by small things, and these are something that is very helpful through this journey.
DR. HUDIS: That's actually profound, that daily life is made by small things. I'm going to remember that. It was a pleasure talking to you, Riccardo.
RICCARDO BRAGLIA: Thanks a lot. It was a pleasure.
PRESENTER 1: Donors like Ricardo provide the foundation of which breakthroughs, both big and small, are built. You can learn more about the latest cancer research at conquer.org. Hearing the experiences of others can help people cope with the challenges cancer brings. Help others find these inspiring stories by leaving a review of the podcast, and subscribe today on iTunes or Google Play to hear every new episode. Thanks for listening to Your Stories-- Conquering Cancer.
PRESENTER 2: The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. This is not a substitute for professional medical care and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions. Guests on this podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement.