‘Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds a dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.’
–Susan Sontag, Illness as a Metaphor
THE NIGHT I begin to step into myself, my shoes don’t fit. Everything keeps slipping from my fingers that morning. The shampoo bottle, a teaspoon, my phone: suspended for one surging moment before landing with a clatter on the floor. I stare. Patti Smith is on my playlist today. Her rough scarred voice cuts through the quiet as sunlight slopes in from a window. I sit on my bed and work through a line of high heels pulled from my closet, trying them on, one by one. They are all pretty and pointy and very bad for pelvic alignment, I’ve been told. And none of them fit. None.
I always dreaded the red carpet. I had walked it at movie premieres in Toronto and LA, events in Bombay, and I always felt self-conscious: you have to think about how to tilt your head and how to suck in your non-existent gut while photographers click away. You are expected to look flawless. Ambition and expectation wrap around your skin, hug your form. But in the fall of 2009, I do have a gut, and it is swinging beneath a sari-inspired dress in royal purple, specially made for my new body.
My costume designer friend Rashmi Varma dropped off the dress a couple of hours before the debut of my film Cooking with Stella at the Toronto International Film Festival. Then, one by one, I tried on pairs of heels from my closet. My feet are too bloated. That’s what steroids do, and I have been knocking them back by the handful – four days on, four days off. They’ve also turned my face into a large, round moon. I call this feeling of an extra, elastic skin on top of my skin ‘my wet suit’. I sit on the couch and watch as my belly inflates before my eyes. I study my fingers. They look like kabanosy, the sausages of my childhood. I marvel at my bloated thighs, saying to my dad, ‘Look at this. I’m expanding – like a cartoon character!’
And now my feet are swollen, too. For some reason, as I look down at my extra thick ankles, the gravity of the situation hits me: two months ago, I had sat in a tiny supply closet of a room across from a jittery, rabbit-faced doctor. He spoke very slowly, pausing a long time between each word, as if to gauge my reaction: ‘You. Have. Multiple. Myeloma.’
The doctor reminded me of the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. As he kicked me down the hole, he never said the word cancer. In fact, the signs in the clinic were vague: Hematology Centre. But the pregnant pauses told me I was being inducted into a new club: ‘Fatal.’ Pause. ‘Incurable.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Do you want me to get you some water?’
I know my response might seem strange, but he did look parched. Also, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get better. Almost as soon as he said cancer (or didn’t), I was framing it as just another adventure in a life that had circled the globe for three decades, plucking one experience after the other like cherries from trees. Now cells in my bones were rampaging, multiplying, squeezing out the red blood cells. I had become a junior member of the MM cancer club, diagnosed at thirty-seven, while the average age is sixty-five. Fatal. Incurable. But I wasn’t scared – not yet, anyway.
Or perhaps deep in my philosophic core I believe nothing is wasted.
Not even this.
About the book:
‘How fortunate it is when life alters you without warning.’
One of India’s first supermodels. Actor. Cancer survivor. Mother of twins through surrogacy. Woman of no fixed address.
This is the story of Lisa Ray. An unflinching, deeply moving account of her nomadic existence: her stumbling into the Indian entertainment industry at sixteen; her relationship with her Bengali father and Polish mother; life on the movie sets and her brush with the Oscars; her battle with eating disorders; being diagnosed with multiple myeloma at thirty-seven; her spiritual quest; lovers and traitors, mentors and dream-makers; and the heartaches and triumphs along the way. It is also about Lisa’s pursuit of love. Funny, charming, and gut-wrenchingly honest all at once, Close to the Bone is Lisa Ray’s brave and inspiring story of a life lived on her terms.
About the author:
Lisa Ray’s long and serendipitous career in the modelling and entertainment arts began when, at sixteen, she appeared on the cover of Gladrags, an image that made her an overnight sensation. One of India’s first supermodels, Lisa made several forays into acting, memorably in the Oscar-nominated Water, and television (Top Chef Canada and Oh My Gold). She also starred in Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Afreen Afreen’ video. She was recently seen in the original Amazon series Four More Shots Please! and her upcoming acting releases include A.R. Rahman’s first production, ‘99 Songs’. She has also started her own yoga studio and a line of ethical perfume.
When diagnosed with a rare blood cancer in 2009, Lisa chose to share her experiences in a blog called ‘The Yellow Diaries’ which led to her memoir, Close to the Bone. She is a well-known advocate for cancer awareness through her writing and public talks. She writes poetry centred on identity and a life of no fixed address. Lisa recently announced the birth of her twin daughters via surrogacy, writing and speaking about it as a way to normalize fertility options and choices for others. She divides her time between Mumbai and the world.