Discovered on Holiday as a teenager in India, and thrust into the international spotlight as a model and actress, Toronto-born Lisa Ray has embraced fate and worked hard to fulful her potential. It has reaped rewards: the stunning star has made a name for herself in both Bollywood – her dad is Bengali and her mother Polish – and North America, with films such as Deepa Mehta’s Water.
But little did Lisa know, her biggest challenge would come in 2009, when she was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, an incurable form of blood cancer. Now in remission – after rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant – the spirited 39-year-old has partnered with Myeloma Canada to spread the word about breakthrough treatment options and access to care. Here, the down-to-earth beauty sits down with Hello! at Toronto’s Metropolitan Hotel for a frank talk about life and love after cancer.
Hello! (HM): Congratulations! You’ve been in remission for a year and look great. How are you feeling?
Lisa Ray (LR): I’m grateful to be sitting here. I consider myself to be a “cancer graduate”, not a cancer survivor. I am renting that term from a very dear friend who’s also gone through cancer. You come out of this with a lot more wisdom and it’s up to you to apply it.
HM: Can you give us an example of how cancer changed you?
LR: It has brought out my inner accountant. I love what I do, but when I couldn’t do it, I had to completely reset my life. I couldn’t go and spend 14-hour days on the set. What do I have to fall back on? It made me tap into a completely different part of myself, made me rethink my investments… I’ve discovered that I have an MBA embedded in me.
HM: After your diagnosis, you decided to shave your head before you lost your hair. Why?
LR: I was getting tired of my hair anyway! [Laughs] It was a way of taking back control. I actually got my partner at the time – he was in the military – to bring in his professional clippers and we had a little party. I still remember how liberating it felt.
HM: You mention your “partner at the time.” Are you dating anyone these days?
LR: Right now, I’m in between.
HM: What do you look for in your special someone?
LR: Given what I’ve been through, you just really want someone you can laugh and relax with. I say I’m “in between,” but I have a few people who are really significant. I’m kind of without labels in my life right now and I’m cool with that. You care and you love. It’s free-flow. Bring it on.
HM: You host the series Bollywood Best Top Ten on Omni Television and you’re writing a book. What’s next?
LR: What I would like to do now is cut back on my travelling and just stay in Canada. This is the right place to be right now to support my healing. Toronto is base camp and Nelson [B.C.] is the antidote to big-city living. I need a bit of both right now.
HM: You’ve been busy with public engagements. Tell us what it was like to host Queen Elizabeth at a film studio tour in Toronto last year.
LR: It was fabulous! I sat next to Prince Philip, and he was a delight – totally warm, funny and irreverent. [We talked] a little bit about everything. I had just bought my place in Nelson, and I mentioned it. He said, “I think I’ve been there.” And I said, “Really?” And he said, “Darling, I’ve been everywhere.”
(Report: Carli Whitwell)