Actress Lisa Ray has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, or bone marrow cancer. Myeloma is currently incurable. Though some victims have been able to live with the ‘condition’ for up to two decades, not a single case of a cure has been recorded. So what does Ray do? She starts blogging, telling her story, her thoughts and tries to raise awareness about bone marrow cancer. Visit lisaraniray.wordpress.com for a glimpse into the mind of an extraordinarily courageous, sensitive and optimistic person. ‘(Due to the steroids and other medication I am on) I’m getting so healthy and so round,’ she writes. ‘So much that when I walk around into corner stores now, the owners start to suspect I might be a high school prankster with sticky fingers. ‘Only three kids in here at one time,’ the guy behind the counter told me the other day. Baby cheeks getting me in trouble.’
Dying with dignity over a prolonged period of time is the hardest challenge life throws at us. I don’t know how many of us manage that, will manage that. I have seen such a case close-up, and the condition, again, was multiple myeloma. One of my closest relatives—and one of the finest, bravest and most inspiring men I have known—fought the beast in his bones for six years, trying to lead as normal a life as possible, working till his very last day. Indeed, he was on an engineering design sheet moments before he passed away. He volunteered for a programme for testing of the drug thalidomide, lethal to you or me. He fought government corruption when Health Ministry bureaucrats refused to allow free import of thalidomide for this government-supervised programme, apparently to help a private pharma firm that was to launch the drug in India at a very high price. He won. Not for a day did he show fear, he just accepted his coming death with a shrug; after all, it happens to everyone.
Many of us have contempt for reality TV star Jade Goody for the way she capitalised on her impending death from cancer, by selling the TV rights for her last days. Yet, one cannot avoid acknowledging her courage and her confidence in herself. She did not fear appearing on millions of TV screens with her hair all gone due to chemotherapy, her body bloated by steroids, unable to get out of bed, and perhaps in intense pain. She let us see her at what would be her weakest moments, and she turned them into her strongest.
In 2007, Randy Pausch, professor of computer science at Carnegie-Mellon, became world famous with The Last Lecture, a speech he delivered at his university, with the knowledge that he had a maximum of six months before pancreatic cancer took his life. Millions watched the video of this astonishingly moving speech on YouTube; as a book, it became a worldwide bestseller. “If I don’t seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you,” he said. “And I assure you I am not in denial… And the other thing is I am in phenomenally good health right now…In fact, I am in better shape than most of you.” Then he got on the ground and did a few push-ups. Following that up with: “So anybody who wants to cry or pity me can do a few of those, and then you may pity me.”
“Do not go gentle into that good night/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” Dylan Thomas had recommended. These people did not rage; they faced death with both acceptance and scorn. As I write this column, I get news that my 32-year-old first cousin has been diagnosed with cancer of the lymph gland, fourth stage. I remember carrying him around as a baby, playing with him as a child, how he lived with us as a young software professional. One can only hope for a miracle, and that he stays brave.
To end with good news: Ray’s latest post mentions: ‘I guess I am still startled by the news of my latest protein work which shows near full remission. I should be ecstatic. I’m a little scared. I’m travelling back to trust. But the girl’s changed.’