“When I first got sick, I had trouble finding anything that showed me how it feels to live with cancer, how to make sense of the emotional weight of it, of the changes to my life. So, I started to draw.” | Q&A with writer/graphic artist Teva Harrison

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Cancer, when it hits us or our loved ones, throws us into shock.  And, no doubt when Teva Harrison found out that she was diagnosed with cancer, she was in shock too. So she drew. And she wrote. And through all drawing and writing came out her book In-Between Days. And in it she has given us something to consider and relate to when the disease strikes.

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1.Using your own words, can you give a bit of an outline of In-Between Days?

In-Between Days is a book about making sense of a terminal cancer diagnosis, and learning how to keep on living. It’s a non-chronological memoir told in comics and short essays that explores what it is to live with cancer, what’s lost and what’s still here. Notably, I’m still here.

2.What was your primary motivation to create In-Between Days? How long did it take to create?

I wasn’t initially drawing to make a book. I was drawing for myself, to make sense of my muddy, muddled thoughts and feelings. It helped me to draw, it still does. I decided to share the work online in hopes that it would find is way to somebody working through similar experiences. I’m still amazed that I had the opportunity to turn those initial investigations into a book. I’m really grateful to House of Anansi for welcoming and guiding me through that process.

This is my first book, so my perspective isn’t worth much, but I am told that this book was produced very quickly. It took about a year.

3. The descriptions for the book state that it is a combination of illustrations and essay. Is all the work based on memories and experiences or did you do any research for it as well?

The work interprets memories and experiences. They essays are personal, but I believe there’s something universal about my experiences and emotional response. Rather than writing a book about cancer, I wrote about how I am figuring out how to live with cancer, how to still have meaning with diminished possibilities and capabilities.

4.It looks like a limited circle of people have already seen the book. How has the reaction been to it so far? Has there been any memorable reactions to the book you care to share ?

I’ve felt so grateful for the positive response the book has received so far. I feel that people have been very kind. It has been so heartening to see authors and artists I respect like Joseph Boyden, Vincent Lam, Guy Maddin, and Kathleen Hanna respond so positively to the work. The most rewarding thing, though, has been the look of knowing – of understanding and being understood – that I’ve encountered from other people living with cancer or other terminal or chronic illnesses, and the people who care about and for them.

5. Do you have any specifics hopes for the book? Is there anything you would like it to accomplish?

It is my sincere hope that this book will find its way to somebody who needs to feel understood, not alone, in their health crisis. I am sharing it because I wanted to find something like it – emotional, honest, explicit, when I was first diagnosed – to give me some idea of what I was going to experience. I look forward to seeing if and how it can be useful to other people, either ill themselves or supporting an ill person.

6. You seem to have an active role on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those applications? Are you hoping to use those apps. in order to gauge reaction to In-Between Days?

I’ve been active on social media for a long time. One of the things I love about these kinds of platforms is the opportunity for an immediate response. I think there’s a great possibility for iterative improvement in these environments. The comics that developed into this book were first published online. That means that I had a real-time response as my comics developed. That absolutely influenced me to develop my craft at a more rapid rate than I would have in a vacuum. In addition to gauging reaction, social media has afforded me the opportunity to tap into a remarkable online community gathering around the shared experience of a cancer diagnosis, stage IV or otherwise. I feel really lucky to have made the connections I have, although I do wish the circumstances were different for all of us. 

7. Is there a tour for planned for In-Between Days? (I know of the launch at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto on May 4) If yes, are there any dates you are excited to partake in?

Right now, I am booked into a few upcoming readings and festivals, The Ottawa Writers Festival, The Ontario Writers Conference Festival of Authors, and the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. I’m also helping out at two of Toronto’s many amazing bookstores for Authors for Indies Day. I am really excited about all of the events! I feel very lucky, not just to be invited, but to be well enough to participate. I look forward to seeing where else the book might take me!

8. What is the state of your health? How are you feeling?

Thanks for asking. Right now, my cancer is basically stabilized by the drugs I am taking in a clinical trial. My pain is fairly well managed thanks to my palliative care team, acupuncture and massage. I get tired easily, but if I manage my time well, building in time for naps and rest, not taking on too much, I’m able to feel fairly well. There are some things, of course, but as symptoms and side effects come up or change, I work with my healthcare team to manage them. Stage IV breast cancer is incurable, but it can be treated, at least for a time. In the best case scenario, it can be rendered chronic with a series of treatments, adjusted and applied as the cancer adapts to evade them. I have regular clinic visits, blood work and CT scans to monitor my tumours. I’m getting better at living with the uncertainty of living scan to scan.

9. Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

Yeah! After spending so much time drawing exclusively about cancer, I really wanted to spend some time just focusing on things that delight me, so I’m working on The Joyful Living Colouring Book. It’s a lot of fun to draw!

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Link to Teva Harrison’s website

Link to House of Anansi website for In-Between Days

2 thoughts on ““When I first got sick, I had trouble finding anything that showed me how it feels to live with cancer, how to make sense of the emotional weight of it, of the changes to my life. So, I started to draw.” | Q&A with writer/graphic artist Teva Harrison

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