Lisa Ray

The Yellow Diaries

Anniversaries

I went away to Nelson BC.

There is something lyrical about heading west. Freedom-seeking. With or without a wagon containing all your worldly possessions.

I love the mountains for how they free me of excess. Words, for instance. The ones in my head and otherwise. In Nelson I stayed with my friends Rose and Michael who are urban refugees and run a B&B in an old convent. Rose calls her establishment ‘Simply B&B’. And that’s what we did. We cooked together. We soaked in the hot springs together. We ran errands together and draped ourselves on the sofa in front of the fire together.

I was simply ‘being’.

In Nelson, I saw a healer called Michael Smith. He spoke to me about many things I’d heard before. About what to eat. About what to avoid. About how to shift my nervous system out of the stress response and into the relaxation response. About ‘Larry the Lizard’. In fact, he called his brand of medicine, ‘And’ medicine because of all the approaches he throws in.

‘And’ I understood. Everything he spoke to me about.

Maybe because I had more room inside.

And I had time to grieve. For my mom. I lit candles at the Catholic church for her. And I cried.

Maybe because I had more room inside.

What I need now, is simplicity. Even in my writing. I don’t want to be clever and agonise over new ways of telling you about what I’m going through. There must be a direct current from my heart to the keyboard and I’ll keep trying to find it.

So…

A lot of anniversaries. Over a year since I was diagnosed. June 23rd, 2009.

Dr Galal has left PMH for Saskatoon. While it’s too arrogant to believe he was stationed at PMH to save me, just me, he was there for a critical period of my treatment and his departure makes me sad even as it neatly bookends one chapter of my experience with MM.

I had a check up with Dr Reece who is running the David Bloom Research Chair for Multiple Myeloma at Princess Margaret. She’s just lovely. Bloodwork shows I am still in remission, the beast remains in its cage. I am more at peace with monitoring myself for the rest of my life. It’s a new normal, as they say.

I have decided not to go on any maintenance therapy. Living drug- and specifically Dex- free is sweet. My quality of life is better than before. Now that I’m learning to ’simply be’.

Guilt-free.

Naturally, a lot of folks in Toronto think I’m nutty. Or lazy.

Why do we feel so compelled in North America to always be productive? And how do you measure the intangibles, but non-negotiables, of your quality of existence? Happiness? Self-actualization? What are the metrics involved? Can we move back to a place where we trust our own inner compass?

Well, yes. Yoga helps.

I went to my Moksha Yoga graduation one weekend ago at Jess’ farm. It was over a year ago, in Kerala during my Moksha Yoga Teacher Training, that I knew something was wrong.

And then it took me longer to stop denying my feeling.

Moksha Yoga has taught me the power of community. The value of approaching each task, no matter how small, with commitment and focus.

Buh. It’s been one of my toughest lessons. And I suspect I’m a slow learner.

I recently had lunch with the Queen and Prince Philip. I know- its just one of those events which are hard not to flog. The lunch for Her Majesty was held at Toronto Pinewood Studios in order to highlight our film industry. So it was an honour to MC the event. And sit at the head table, next to Prince Philip. Who says Multiple Myeloma doesn’t get you places? While I’ve suspended my Cancer Club membership, it seems there’s been more extracurricular perks than being a member of the Toronto Lawn and Tennis Club.

Prince Philip was engagingly irreverent, warm and ironic. By the time we started dessert, I had forgetten about the five pages of protocol I received before the event, culminating with ‘Subjects of Conversation: It is not appropriate to offer opinions on the Royal Family in discussion, complimentary or otherwise. Giving unsolicited opinions is not advisable.’

gulp.

When you’ve been through Cancer, protocol moves way down your priority list, in my experience. However, I’m Indian, so I welcome some amount of ritual and spectacle. And I do have an affinity for Royalty, having spent many anecdote-worthy evenings with a deposed Indian blue blood or two. So I enjoyed the circumstance and a bit of the pomp and acquitted myself reasonably at the luncheon.

You know why?

Because now for me, its all about chasing the joy. In any situation.

And it was the Queen, after all.

God bless the Queen.

Enough said.

I will be filming on Tuesday. A guest role and my first acting gig since…BC.

Before Cancer.

I got some images from Rado which I shot shortly after my stem cell. As one friend said, ‘Loving the short hair so much. Leaves more room for you to be there.’

Rado has been steadfast in supporting me through this new terrain.

And my friends. I am so grateful. But you know what else Cancer taught me? Love is an action. It’s not a feeling. And its not love until there’s evidence of action. So I’ve been very busy, loving my friends. Sometimes that means cooking basil pesto salmon, or staying on the phone an extra 15 minutes or it means travelling to Nelson.

Or it means practising compassion.

Both with another and with myself.

A friend of a friend was recently diagnosed with MM. I called her up and offered up my support. I coached her through the the upcoming stages of treatment. When I mentioned ’stem cell transplant’ she blurted out that she was terrified and couldn’t bear to think about it. Then I suggested she read this blog.

‘NO. I can’t. It will make it too real, too soon.’

After getting off the phone, I felt disdain. That’s right. Disdain. I felt this woman was weak and confused. I wanted her to be a trooper and take charge of her health with a zen-like attitude. Pull your head out of the sand, for chrissakes!

And then I remembered. One year ago. I was invited to attend a south asian festival in Toronto. And I agreed.

It wasn’t an act of bravery, but my own personal response to getting diagnosed. I was in denial.

So what’s the difference between myself and this newest member of the MM Club?

Well, she’s braver than I. Or, at least she is sharing what she feels. Completely and without self censorship.

That makes her braver than I.

I’m a slow learner, as I mentioned. But I get there. Deny nothing, good or not so good, and you have a chance to both heal and experience the fullest spectrum of living.

The MM5K Walk Toward the Cure to raise funds for Multiple Myeloma Research at Princess Margaret Hospital is coming up soon. Even if I’m not in Toronto, I hope we can all galvanise together. Like last year.

I’m also searching for a charity or foundation which specifically targets Multiple Myeloma in India. My friend Lisa Hayden in Bombay did some research and referred me to Dr Advani’s foundation. Dr Advani has been treating her mom for MM. And Lisa has been bringing my photo to Patrick the Healer. Sometimes this cancer thing has connected me with remarkable beings in the most unanticipated manner.

Curse or blessing.

Maybe I should just stop judging.

Oh yeah. I got another rejection from an insurance company for a new mortgage. Another year, another rejection.

buh.

I may be marked, but maybe it will make you listen. Despite my ‘pre-existing condition’.

In another few months, I will be promoting, 1 a minute, a docu drama featuring female celebrities around the world who have some experience with Cancer. I hope to be in India for the promotions and I hope to donate some of the proceeds to a Multiple Myeloma charitable foundation.

Work on my first book begins shortly. Before then I need a cautionary sign: ‘Woman at Work’, as much a reminder to myself as a warning to others. Of course, I have found the perfect collaborator for this project, someone who will both inspire and discipline me.

And…

If you really want to know how cancer has changed me, I offer this poem:

We shall not stop our exploring
And at the end of our exploring
we shall arrive where we started. and know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remember the gate
through the last of earth left to discover
is that which was the beginning
At the source of the largest river
the voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple tree-
not known because not looked for
but heard, half-heard in the stillness,
between two waves of the sea
Here now a condition of complete simplicity
costing not less than everything.

TS Eliot

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