A Well-Crafted Memoir which Enlightens | Review of “In-Between Days” by Teva Harrison (2016) House of Anansi

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We live our lives in too fast a pace. We want everything at once and we want it now. So what do we do when something horrid comes along and stops us in our tracks. Cancer has struck us all in one way or shape and we our dumbfounded in our tracks when it occurs. So what do we do? What do we say? What do we think? When Teva Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, she did what she has done all her life. She drew. And then she wrote. And in turn she gave us In-Between Days: A Memoir about Living with Cancer. And in it she gave us a guide to understanding life with cancer a bit better.

Preface – Drawing Forward  – Page 1

The brain is a tangle of memory, feeling, hope and dream. Pull on a thread and it all unravels. In order to make sense of my cancer, I found myself work through all the buried, unresolved hurt and memory from my life before cancer.

It took months of drawing about my childhood before I even started to draw about my experience living with the disease.

I’ve been an artist my whole life, but this is the first time I have felt the need for narrative. Figuring out how to tell my story with comic strips has been interesting and empowering. When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I’ve since learned that it’s the unspoken that is most frightening. Shining alight on my experiences takes some of the power away from the bogeyman that is my cancer. I’m taking my power back.

I was extremely excited that Chapters/Indigo and Canada Post were somehow able to get this book to me one day before it’s official publication. I had been a fan of Harrison’s work in The Walrus magazine for a while now and she was gracious enough to do a Q&A for me a few weeks ago.(Link here) And many of us book fans have been eagerly awaiting this book. Cancer has a major hold for many people that it is a major factor of the human condition. Teva has opened up about her experiences here. Using her skills and her time, she has given us a guide of what living with cancer is like. And kudos are deserved for her effort!

Some People get Lucky – Page 16

If I found a magical elixir to turn back time, when would I go back to? What difference would it make, really, since my cancer is hereditary? Conception? Would I let the egg that became me flow, infertile, away with the menses?

No. I like to exist.

The clinical trial I’m on now doesn’t allow most of the complementary therapies I was taking. We just don’t know how they’ll react with the investigational drug. So I eased off. I still take very good care of myself, but two years in, the fever pitch has slowed.

I mean, the cancer is here, and I have a life to live. And sometimes living well includes eating something made with sugar or having a glass of wine with dinner. I’m not going to be hard on myself. I’m going to enjoy every minute I can.

Plenty of people eat fast food every day, watch hours and hours of TV, get blackout drunk, and they’re just fine. But it doesn’t matter if I treat my body like a temple; the problem is in my genes.

So, Here I stand.

This is luck of the worst kind.

Sleep
I CAN’T SLEEP – Illustration by Teva Harrison. Scanned image of Page 86 from In-Between Days

There is a certain frankness in both Harrison’s words and her black-and-white illustrations. The feelings shared are blunt, honest and deeply personal. Yet they are ones that many people have when dealing with cancer. Teva has given readers a strong message that they are not alone with the creation of this book.

Trying on Small Talk – Page 115

Small talk is easy when you have a job. If somebody asks you what you do, you already have an elevator pitch at the ready. Or if you have kids, you can just go on about their latest cute discovery. I can see why. Kids keep your eyes wide to the world.

Small talk is a minefield when all you have to offer is cancer. It’s touched everybody, but most people don’t know how to talk about it or don’t want to.

Except for a few people. There’s a type of person desperate to talk about cancer: people who want to process the loss of a loved one.

And let’s get real. The last thing this cancer patient wants to talk about is dead cancer patients.

But it is not all dire and seriousness in the book. Like the leftovers in mythical Pandora’s box, Tera documents the hope she has. There is some brightness and joy to be had and she shares that hope again with readers who need to know it exists for themselves.

mister
Dancing With My Mister
Illustration by Teva Harrison. Scanned image of Page 76 from In-Between Days

In-Between Days: A Memoir about Living with Cancer by Teva Harrison is a great example of literature and culture. Harrison has taken her illness and all the items associated with it and shared it with readers, making them not feel so alone and confused. This is a book that has been highly anticipated and deserves many laurels.

*****

Link to Teva Harrison’s website

Link to House of Anansi’s website for In-Between Days

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