LOS ANGELES Ten months after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Canadian actress Lisa Ray says she is cancer free, has enjoyed being bald, and is ready to embrace her second home, India, with new vigour.
The actress and model, frequently named as one of the most beautiful people in the world by Indian and Canadian media, says she is feeling "reborn" after a stem cell transplant in January to treat multiple myeloma.
"This has hijacked my life for long enough and now I am going to take matters into my own hands," Ray, 38, told Reuters.
"It's really been a kind of rebirth," she said of her radical stem cell transplant treatment. "It's like being reborn from the inside out. It's a big cleaning from the middle of your marrow and spreading out."
Multiple myeloma is a cancer of white blood cells that attacks and destroys bone and which more commonly afflicts people in their mid-60s. There is currently no known cure and treatment is focused on containment.
But Ray, born in Canada to an Indian father and Polish mother, chose to fight back, and chronicle her battle in a painfully honest yet humorous blog that has won her even more admirers.
The glossy-haired star of Bollywood movies "Water" and "Kasoor," showed off her new short-hair look this week in Los Angeles.
Her most recent movie, "Cooking with Stella," opened the Indian Film Festival in the U.S. city as a benefit for the Los Angeles-based Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research.
"My hair is coming back and it is looking awesome right now. I am just loving it. It is the sleekest and most well-put together I have ever looked," she laughed.
Ray recalled that she had cut off her long dark locks for her role in 2007 Oscar-nominated movie "Water." But having her hair fall out while undergoing cancer treatment was a different matter.
"What was traumatic about losing my hair this time was I didn't have a choice. But I have enjoyed being bald," she added, relishing the absence of shampoos, conditioners and hair dryers in her life.
RE-CONNECTING WITH INDIA
Ray got her first modelling job after being spotted in India at the age of 16 while on a family vacation. And India was the first place she headed for after her stem cell transplant.
"It was the best thing I could have done," she said. "I am planning to divide my time between Bombay and Canada now. I felt really re-embraced and re-connected with a world and people in that world that I had missed, and it feels right to start really re-engaging and spending a lot more time there."
"There has been some tension in my life, living and belonging on two continents. But now I have come to peace with it. I haven't come to some big transcendental conclusion about this, but on a personal level it feels like I really need to absorb both places."
Ray said she wanted to resume her acting and modelling career. But what excites her most is the offer of a publishing contract in India. Details are still under wraps.
"Writing is a renewed passion that I have re-discovered. It is a beautiful way of processing what I have been going through," she said of her blog.
"You can take the pain and understand it through the filter of art..It's been so valuable and I am definitely going to pursue it. I have a feeling that writing will become increasingly important in my life."
Ray also plans to continue efforts to raise awareness for multiple myeloma. Some 20 percent of proceeds from ticket sales to the "Cooking with Stella" screening at the Indian film festival in Los Angeles will go towards the Institute for Myeloma & Bone Cancer Research which works on designing new drug therapies for the condition.
"Obviously, it is in my benefit. But we also we have to understand that cancer, not just multiple myeloma, is reaching epidemic proportions and we need to take action," she said.
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