Ruth Marshall, an actor best-known for starring on Degrassi: The Next Generation, had to relearn how to walk after a debilitating surgery to remove a rare tumour from her spine. Her memoir, Walk it Off, is her first book. She lives in Toronto.
Why did you write this memoir?
I actually started writing the book from the day my feet started tingling because it sounded like the beginning of a good short story. I knew there was nothing really wrong with me – it was probably just my shoes pinching my toes or something. As time went on, I was actually using the same notebook that I started the short story in to catalogue the growing number of symptoms. I started writing mostly as a way to process and to give myself something to look forward to at the end of the day. I wasn't sure what the end game was. I just knew I needed to keep writing to figure out what the next stage of my life was going to be.
It seems you were a pleasure at your rehab facility – blaring Michael Jackson and constantly praising the staff. How did you maintain such a sunny attitude?
What I realized was obviously I needed to have big goals – I needed to learn how to walk, I needed to learn how to pee on my own. But in the hospital I looked forward to all the little things daily. I really liked having visitors. I did enjoy my nurses. I did watch some things on TV – even though they were inappropriate – that made me feel good. I had my writing to look forward to. I found that I had a natural reset button that somehow got pushed every single day, even though I cried every single day.
You went through a period where you worried you would never have sex again. It seemed to take a real toll on you. How did you overcome that?
I think that nobody wonders what happens to a person's sex life when they are in a wheelchair. Because first of all, you think they have so many other worries, they can't possibly be thinking about that. And secondly, people think that you don't do it any more. So this took up an awful lot of my thinking space because I did have sex on a regular basis before and I did wonder what was going to happen if I could not walk again. What was going to happen to my marriage? So I was kind of obsessed with it. "Yes, yes, yes, I'd like to go to the bathroom, and yes, yes, yes, I'd like to walk, but I'd really like to know if I'll ever have sex again and what that is going to feel like?"
And as far as how did we do it? Really, it was practice, practice, practice.
After your rehab, you returned to Degrassi before eventually deciding to stop acting. What were the challenges of being on-set after your surgery?
It changed things dramatically for me, but in ways you would never imagine. I found it very hard and I still find it a little bit tricky to walk and talk at the same time, especially on-camera. Getting up out of a chair on the first try is tricky. Shoes were a problem because I couldn't wear anything with a heel at all, which I know sounds silly, but it's limiting to the costume department. On Degrassi they finally gave me a budget and said you should go out and buy shoes for yourself, because we don't know what to get you.
Those things happened enough that I thought I was making it too limiting for the people who were kind enough to cast me. It didn't feel like much fun any more.
Do you miss it?
I don't miss it at all. I have a lot of friends who are actors and I'm thrilled for them when they get roles. My husband's a talent agent. I think it was harder for him to see me letting go of my acting career than it was for me. I love the voice work and I'm much happier writing.
Five years have passed since the events of the book. How are you feeling?
I feel really good. I definitely still have nerve issues. There's not any I complain about. My body – from about the middle of my back to my feet – feels very, very different than the one I was used to using for 47 years. But I'm fully capable of doing pretty much everything. I don't think my nerves are going to improve that much any more. I have a feeling this is as good as it gets. And I'm pretty happy with that.