Books

Actor Lisa Ray shares how she overcame cancer in new book

Lisa Ray was a model at 16, an actress, almost a Bond girl, a TV-show host and now an author. She’s been to many places — from her birth place in Canada to India, the US, Italy and the UK. She’s followed her curiosity and it’s culminated in Close to the Bone, an autobiography with all its adventures and misadventures, conflicts and triumphs.

The half-Indian-half-Polish model-actor-author’s green eyes are glistening in the summer light that’s warming a Mumbai café on a May afternoon. She’s dressed in a black-and-white dress but, for a long time, her colour was yellow. ‘The Yellow Diaries’, the name of her personal blog, that documented her tryst with multiple myeloma (MM), derived its name from the colour of the third chakra — “the key to personal power and self-esteem”.

But, like everything else in her life, the 47-year-old is not beholden to any one shade. “I want to be colourful. This includes darker shades, and I embrace the entire spectrum,” says the mother of two. Her honest and detailed book invites readers along on this checkered and colourful journey. In the 380-plus pages, she shares details of an early personal tragedy, from being a sex symbol to a career as a movie star to overcoming a life-threatening disease and finding her way back home.

Running to or running away

“I had been running since sixteen. Too long. And I knew, nothing less than a diagnosis of terminal cancer would give me permission to stop.”

Powerful words, and though Ray reiterates that Close to the Bone is not a “cancer memoir”, the chapter where she describes her treatment, in particular the stem cell replacement procedure, is starkly affecting. While she followed conventional allopathic treatments, both when she was first diagnosed with MM and again when she relapsed a few years later, Ray reiterates the need for healing inside and out.

“The healing for cancer began after the allopathic treatment. Then my focus shifted to rebuilding the immune system and rebooting myself emotionally and psychologically. That’s when complementary healing came in.” Nutrition, Ayurveda, meditation and counselling were the pillars.

“Ayurveda played a big role. What might have contributed to my developing cancer was that my dosha was always out of whack. I am a vata dosha, which is wind, always moving. If you have that personality, then you should actually do the opposite. You should try and still yourself. Eat food that grounds you, have more of a routine and not lead an erratic life. I also did a lot of spiritual healing… purging of emotions. The idea is certain undigested emotions or emotional traumas are trapped in our body that can cause disease. So it is about releasing those emotions.”

Repairing, inside out

Extensive research led to Ray attending a programme at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida. This was after her relapse in 2013, when doctors were suggesting another round of stem cell transplant.

“I decided to do this three-week programme while on medication. It included initiation into how the body, the immune system and digestion work, and why we develop diseases. I was on a raw food diet of sprouts, wheatgrass. It was not tasty, but when it’s a matter of life and death, it doesn’t matter. There were also massages, therapy sessions and I had time to experience moments of catharsis.”

Within a month of that programme, Ray was back in remission and didn’t require a second stem cell transplant. “I am not saying this is for everyone, but this was the path I chose,” says the actress from movies such as Kasoor, Bollywood/Hollywood, Water and, most recently, the streaming series Four More Shots Please.

“In order to heal, I needed to accept what my body was telling me,” she says, now acutely attuned to her body’s needs. From raw foods, she moved to a vegan diet, then vegetarian, and gradually, listening to what her body craved, she included fish and chicken.

Listen without prejudice

“When you become famous at the age of sixteen, there is a real danger you remain trapped by an overcooked version of yourself: in my case it was as a receptacle for men’s desires,” she says in her book. In her early years, plagued by insecurities about her appearance, without the tools to cope with the attention and demands of the glamour industry, Ray writes about her battle with bulimia, and then, much later, the converse of being bloated by steroids.

“Early on in life, I learnt that being suddenly famous, feted, suddenly wealthy or being courted by everyone overnight is a bit of an illusion. It didn’t solve anything for me; it didn’t heal my pain, didn’t heal my mother who was in pain. There are benefits to all of that, but it doesn’t solve anything. We suffered a great personal tragedy simultaneously to my becoming famous,” she says, referring to a car accident involving her father, herself and her mother, who suffered the gravest injuries.

She left Canada then and moved to India to model. “I was at the peak of my success at 16, but inwardly, I was at the depths of despair,” says Ray.

The bulimia was a result of the ensuing self-doubt. It required excavating deeper parts of herself to understand the root cause of her issues. “It’s not connected with how the world perceives you. You have to work from the inside because the mind is the origin of everything,” she says.

Perhaps, this is one of the reasons she feels drawn to the Japanese art of Kintsukuroi (golden joinery) or repairing broken ceramic with gold to make that object even more beautiful: “In Kintsukuroi, I finally discovered both an image and a way of thinking to represent what life would teach me; it’s only when things fall apart can we remake ourselves with a deeper and more enduring beauty. We are, in fact, more beautiful for having been broken.”


Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 2:34:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/actor-lisa-ray-shares-how-she-overcame-cancer-in-new-book/article27186520.ece

Next Story