BENGALURU: Someone in India chanced upon the blog, and within twenty-four hours my cancer became national news. Thousands of comments. Overflowing kindness and support. A balm, a tonic, an unfraying. In India prayers were spoken for me. I had been chasing love like trying to bottle the wind, thrown off balance or being swept off my feet, when it was always there, vast and accessible as the ocean, overlooked in countless small gestures and the spark in the centre of every heart. My own heart undressed.
I sat cross-legged on my bed, reading messages, shaking my head at the strangeness of it. An interesting bookend to the way my career had started in India so many years ago – overnight impact to overnight impact.
I did two interviews in Canada, one for the Globe and Mail, and one for Entertainment Tonight Canada. Both journalists came to my house. (A sidebar: one of the fun things about cancer is that people will meet you pretty much anywhere you ask them to. Work that cancer!)
My publicist Suzanne Cheriton had briefed Gayle MacDonald from the Globe and Mail, and as we sat out on the deck of my apartment, everyone was very wired and walking on eggshells, which is a common effect that we of the sick world can have. I was the only one who wasn’t anticipating anything negative. At this point, talking about it was a compulsion, because the more I talked about it, the more real it became.
And I needed it to be real, not just something stuffed away in the dark corners of my life. Finally, I was able to say: ‘Yes I have cancer.’ I had never really connected with the word entirely – it’s used surprisingly sparingly in the medical world – and with its utterance came a deep sense of relief. We talked about other exceptionally ordinary things too – books, the apartment – and Gayle was lovely, very gracious. But I could tell she was scared. ‘Everything’s going to be fine,’ she said.
‘Everything’s going to be fine.’ People say that a lot. ‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘Of course, it will.’ I was ready to live in the present tense.
One afternoon in early September I was chopping fruit in my kitchen. According to my call sheet of treatments hanging by a magnet on my fridge, I had chemo that afternoon. Before that, I had to attend a launch party for Cooking with Stella. I looked down at my bloated hands and saw my fingers were like small sausages. I could hear muffled cries of children and street noises through my small kitchen window. I’d bought a papaya – an extravagance in Canada in the fall. I was stripping the skin, trying to remember how my maid in India did it, turning the fruit, the skin falling off in one long, unbroken peel. I cut through the flesh of the papaya, exposing two symmetrical halves.
There is something about this action that is hypnotic, or maybe it’s just the things you notice when you slow down. I watched my hands gripping the handle, the tip of the blade slicing cleanly through flesh.
I looked at the salmon-coloured centre of the fruit, sweet and yielding, speckled with black seeds. This stillness, this attention I found myself bringing to the most mundane gestures; there’s no shortcut to that place. The place I now found myself in.
I knew there was something that must be preserved about my cancer experience. Nurse Pauline had told me my body would shrink once I got off steroids. My hair would fall out and grow back again. All the pain and struggle would fade.
Excerpted from Close To The Bone by Lisa Ray, with permission from HarperCollins India