Books·First Look

Read an excerpt and see the cover of Lisa Ray's memoir Close to the Bone

Close to the Bone will be available on Nov. 3, 2020.

Close to the Bone will be available on Nov. 3, 2020

Lisa Ray is an actor, model, TV host, philanthropist and activist. (Submitted by Lisa Ray)

Lisa Ray is one of India's most successful cover models, has been a host of Top Chef Canada and an actor who was in the Oscar-nominated film Water, the Amazon Prime series Four Shots More Please and the upcoming A.R. Rahman film 99 Songs.  

She also defended David Chariandy's novel Brother on Canada Reads 2019.

In 2009, she was diagnosed the rare blood cancer multiple myeloma. She revealed her diagnosis on the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival, and shared her journey on a blog called The Yellow Diaries.

Ray is now sharing her story — from her rise to the top of the model and acting world after being discovered at 16, how her cancer turned everything upside down and the highs and lows in between — in a new memoir, Close to the Bone.

Close to the Bone will be published on Nov. 3, 2020.

You can read an excerpt from the book below.

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 L.A., 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!"

Lisa Ray, after cancer treatment. (Submitted by Lisa Ray)

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 37, while the average age is 65. 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.

I am ready to listen to my bones, this silent support structure deep inside all of us.

Steroids, chemo and hospital hallways hadn't burdened that light touch too much. But on the eve of the film premiere, 40 pounds heavier and about to debut my moon face in front of my peers and the international media, I feel just a little bit of self-pity — not because I am ill, but because I can't get into my shoes. I have done everything to avoid being looked at in a certain way and yet here we are: dredging up vanity to encapsulate my life. The irony in this immediately slays the sadness and becomes a strange awakening. Slowly, I emerge from this reverie that I have been in for a long time, living in a disconnect between private pain and public persona. My cancer — which I jokingly call "The Cancer" (you have to laugh, or, as they say, you'll die) — is a rare little orphan cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow. The marrow is the deepest part of yourself, and I can feel those depths shifting, unmuffling and upending all that is hidden. After years of floating in the wind like a leaf, coming and going, I am ready to feel rooted. After years of trafficking in fantasy, I am ready to toy with truth. I am ready to listen to my bones, this silent support structure deep inside all of us.

Lisa Ray with her daughters and husband, Jason Dehni. (Submitted by Lisa Ray)

Tonight, I will glide on to the red carpet in big shoes with a clunky heel. While one part of me will step forward, another will be at a distance from the lights and the din, wheeling across the sky, watching through a slowly floating lens. I have lived in a way that has transported me through a myriad of worlds, but still, I had never imagined this.

I am composed of all the things seen and known and experienced, the emotions of a life lived close to the bone. I can feel it all expanding in my chest, filling my veins. And now, when I debut a new body on the shimmering opacity of the red carpet, I will reveal how fortunate a thing it is, when life alters you without warning.

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