Anita Moorjani

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am


LOST IN THE CROWD I came to Hong Kong in 1962 with my family, who are from India. I went to the Kennedy and Island ESF schools, and there were very few other Asian expat kids in those days. I was bullied a lot. I've since written a lot about Hong Kong in general and my experiences growing up here, and what it was like being a third-culture person in a Chinese society. My parents would take me to an Indian temple to worship, I had a Chinese nanny, I spoke fluent Cantonese and the kids at my school were mostly British. I wasn't allowed to go out and do the things they did, so I felt I didn't belong anywhere.

AGAINST THE GRAIN My parents were traditional Indians and they had arranged a marriage for me, but I didn't go through with it. I ran away a few days before the wedding. This brought great shame on my family and I was ostracised by Hong Kong's Indian community for years. But I knew I could never be what they wanted me to be. I couldn't be a traditional housewife wearing Indian clothes, living with the in-laws and going to temples. That wasn't me. I wanted to travel and I wanted to work. My name was completely tarnished in the Indian community. Once again, I felt like an outsider. Although my dad was very strict, my mum stuck by me and that's what gave me strength. I started out as a personal assistant to a director in a bank. I moved up quite quickly then was poached by a French company and became a manager, and learned to speak French. It was while I was working there that I met my husband, Danny. He is from an Indian family too, and born in Hong Kong, but he doesn't believe in Indian values either. We had both told our parents we weren't going to marry an Indian, but we connected straight away.

CULTURAL AWARENESS In 1997, not long after we married, there was a financial crisis and I lost my job. It was a stressful time. I then started working for companies like Prudential, Coca-Cola and JP Morgan as a cultural trainer, helping expatriates integrate into Hong Kong. At first I helped the spouses who didn't know how to spend their days in a new country and culture, and then the corporate employees themselves. This is needed less now, but it's still helpful if they're dealing with mainland China. I tell them you need to get to know people before you do business with them and you don't necessarily get a job because you've got a good CV. You get it by knowing people and them liking you as a person, and seeing if you fit in their environment.

ILL EFFECT In 2002, I found a lump on my neck which turned out to be lymphoma. I refused chemotherapy because my closest friend and my brother-in-law had just died from cancer and both were treated with chemo in the best cancer hospitals money could buy. It seemed to make them very ill and obviously didn't cure them. I felt that if I was going to die it would be naturally - without drugs. To me at that time the chemo was the scariest part. I believe the cancer was caused by my approach to life: all my fears and inadequacies - always feeling not good enough. Every decision I made was to please others, not myself. Women, particularly, relate to that - especially those from Asian and Indian cultures.

ON THE BRINK I started a naturopathic programme in Hong Kong and went to India to practise yoga. At first I felt I was getting better, but in February 2006 I was having blood transfusions, my lungs filled with fluid, I had lesions, I weighed about 36kg and I couldn't breathe unaided - I'd been on oxygen for weeks. Back in Hong Kong, I fell into a coma, my organs started shutting down and doctors at the sanatorium in Happy Valley told my family I didn't have long to live. That was when I had a near-death experience. I could 'see' my family and hear what the doctors were saying. I told them about it later and they said I could not have heard certain things because they weren't in my room at the time. I was in the coma for 30 hours and I [believe] the near-death experience lasted the entire time. I saw a lot of things - my father, who had died 10 years earlier, came to me and said it wasn't my time. He only had unconditional love for me in the other realm and I realised he had just done his best when he was alive. He was a victim of his culture.

REMISSION IMPOSSIBLE I came out of the coma and within four days the tumours had shrunk by about 60 per cent - you could see that just by looking at them. My organs had started functioning again within 24 hours, my oxygen tube was removed after two days and I went home after five weeks. I had had cancer for four years. Because I was given drugs and chemo while I was in the coma (my husband signed the consent forms as my family figured I only had a few hours left), there's a lot of controversy surrounding my recovery - even among doctors. They were resigned to the fact I was dying, so they were shocked at my fast recovery. It was believed I might have had what's called a 'spontaneous remission'. However, a specialist oncologist who flew in from the United States said he'd never heard of a case of cancer this severe turn around so quickly. He verified my recovery and, as he looked through my files, said to me: 'Whichever way I look at it, you should be dead.' He suggested I write a book and that he would provide a testimonial.

WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT I started sharing my story on the internet anonymously. I didn't want anybody to know who I was, but after I set up my website, I was receiving hundreds of e-mails every week. People were just finding me and telling others about my experience. Somebody told [American self-help author] Wayne Dyer about me and he contacted me to suggest I write a book about my experience. I absolutely did not set out to do this, but Wayne said he'd write the foreword and his publishing house would release it. Since it came out, I've had amazing feedback from people who've said it helped them get through cancer. They say it brings them hope.

Dying to Be Me (published by Hay House) by Anita Moorjani is available now.