Lisa Ray

The Yellow Diaries

Gently Carbonating

Gently Carbonating is fun in Orange

I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma on June 23rd. Started my first cycle of treatment July 2nd. Not long ago.

For me, it was a relief to hear what was wrong. The plasma cells in my bone marrow were rampaging, multiplying, squeezing out the red blood cells and it was time to begin doing something about it. I was also tired of being tired all the time. And you just know when something is not kosher with your body. So when I sat there with Bobcat- my life partner and reservoir of Yellow- and got the news I didn’t react and I didn’t cry. I’m an actress, believe me, I can be dramatic. Not just then though.

First the facts.

Myeloma is incurable.

It’s a relatively rare cancer of the bone marrow that affects about 6000 Canadians. Every year, approximately  2100 more cases are diagnosed.

I’m a junior Member in many ways, having been diagnosed at 37, while the average age is 65. Makes the disease not quite as ‘Sexy’ as other Cancers. But we can change that.

In the industry I’m in, you could say, its motive alone that gives character to your acting.

So today with Velcade and, Revlimid and other promising new treatments in the pipeline our survival rates are improving. But only with an ever expanding toolbox of treatments and awareness can this Cancer be beat. So I’m going to do everything I can to wrench the spotlight onto Myeloma and Cancer Awareness.

I believe it can be cured.

That’s the Dirty Realist in me.

So back to the ‘Yellow’ Diaries. And more on ‘Yellow’ and charging your yellow later…

On Steroids: you are HUNGRY ALL THE TIME.

When Dr. Ahmed Galal, my Warrior-Hematologist at Princess Margaret Hospital gave me my first cycle of meds, he capped his recommendation off with a charming gesture that meant: Beware of sweets.

Well. Sweet things aren’t the only temptation.

Every cycle of treatment, I’m on Dexamethasone for four days on, then four days off.

Who knew it would turn me into a free range chicken, pecking the landscape freely. I find it distracting to walk down my patch of Queen St without stopping for a nibble at the Pie Shack, scoping some sushi or sampling up kimchi and eggs.

I’m currently obsessed with the pepperettes at Meat on the Beach. I had a Gollum-worthy breakdown at the counter recently when I found out they haven’t restocked. So I’ve always been fond of food, fought my battles with food (having been a model) and finally at 37 discovered balance. Until the ‘roids hit that is. Then I see a plate of ‘Reliable Halibut and Fries’ and my stomach goes: THAT IS MINE.

I know I should be doing other things. Like, uh…healing. But so far I’ve kept up a punishingly normal schedule even during treatments. I take meetings, write, sign contracts, read scripts, buy and barter furniture, teach yoga, buy a house, begin to renovate said house. It’s the covert type ‘A’ in me. My years of drama school and manufacturing an alternative reality for a role have also come in handy. I know I’m not trusting the situation. I’m treating my battle like its inconvenient, managing the stage like a tyrannical Bollywood choreographer, but worst of all, I’m not looking it in the eye. I’m letting the situation tyranise my heart. I need to ask for help and support.

They say, name it, then you can recognise it. Then deal with it.

Yup. In time.

Back to Life on Roids. The wetsuit.

It’s an entirely unique experience. When I’m on steroids, I can feel my skin stretch and expand and move in ways and sensations I haven’t felt before. It can be fascinating (for some like myself) to meditate on the pathways of your organism. I bloat up to three times my normal ’size’. It’s like putting on a wetsuit. Except its kinda permanent. Until you stop taking the roids. Then I deflate again.

Now all this time, I understand that the meds are doing their work. Swimmingly. I can feel it. Bobcat named it. We call it ‘Gently Carbonating’. It means the plasma in my bone marrow is getting beaten back. And its all good. Sometimes it feels like I’m wearing vibrating mitts. Or those thick Nova Scotia artisanal socks. Full of fleas.

I’m getting better. My prognosis, given my ‘Junior’ status and stage of disease, is very good. I’m aiming for Full Remission- and with Dr Galal and Velcade as my co-conspirators- this mission is in the bag. That’s my claim and I’m plowing it into the mountaintop. Though I’m not sure why I keep mixing up ‘Remission’ with ‘Transmission’ and ‘Transgression’- maybe that will get clearer down the line.

On August 4th, TIFF announced its lineup for its Galas and Special Presentations for the Canadian Section this year. I have history and a successful and seriously affectionate association with the Toronto International Film Festival festival. My first Canadian film, Bollywood/Hollywood had a Gala opening at Elgin Theatre. Then ‘Water’ the source of so many positive beginnings in my life, opened the Festival and went on to acclaim and an Academy Award Nomination. Four films opened at the fest since then over the last few years and now this year, fittingly, Dilip Mehta’s ‘Cooking with Stella’ gets a Gala Red Carpet Premiere. ‘Defendor’ by Peter Stebbings also gets a slot. I went for the press conference but had to bounce down to PMH for my chemo treatment. And blending that energy felt just fine. Though at the time I didn’t tell anyone, I felt more invested in my day. Less juxtaposed. So the two worlds can blend: its okay to cross over from ballroom to chemo daycare. There was one difference: the press conference was more stressed. And no juice boxes. Bummer.

So I have two films in this year. Celebration.

Do I go?

Do I deal with the current red carpet obsession with pursuing the ‘of the moment’ perfection? I have after all, set myself up in this world.

I’ve also been groomed in subversion. By the film makers I’ve worked with and the stories they chose to tell.

I don’t want to hide. I want to celebrate. In my wetsuit. This is going to make the week and evening very interesting.

I’m going to listen to my marrow. Again.

NADA brought a spark to my appearance at when they dressed me at the recent MMM festival in Toronto when I appeared there right after getting diagnosed with Myeloma in July. Feels right.

Down to the name. NADA. Nothing. Let it go. Drop it.

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