When Teva Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 37, she did everything she could to turn back the clock: she became vegan, started juicing, smoking pot, burning incense, and drinking potions made of flaxseed oil and turmeric. When she learned that the cancer was incurable and had to scale back on the alternative treatments, she picked up a pen started drawing as a way to manage the emotional pain that no amount of hydomorphone could soothe.
The result, first published serially in The Walrus and now collected in a beautiful package and published by House of Anansi Press, is an intimate look at what living with cancer is like. Harrison doesn’t spare her readers any of the grim details of her day-to-day: cocktails of laxatives, rewarding herself with a new toothbrush after a particularly rigorous round of vomiting, masturbating daily in an attempt to combat vaginismus.
“One of the most stunning memoirs I’ve ever read.”– Joseph Boyden
It is harrowing stuff, but Harrison makes it palatable with her humour and joie de vivre. In one particularly amusing panel, Teva sketches herself undergoing spinal stereotactic radiation therapy, a very precise process in which she is basically vacuum sealed into a mould and blasted with radiation. She is completely taken by the absurdity, and can’t contain her glee when she asks the technician to take a photo for her to later show her husband, David.
“Beautiful, heartbreaking, honest and true, In-Between Days explores not just what it means to live with terminal cancer, but what it means to live with integrity in the face of our morality. I couldn’t put it down.” — Alison Pick, author of Between Gods and Far To Go
It’s not a stretch to say that without David, Harrison might not still be around to see her book published later this month. In the short and sweet passages that accompany her drawings, she scribes her appreciation for the man she met and married after a brief, whirlwind, transcontinental romance. Most of the second part of In-Between Days is dedicated to him, with alongside Teva’s matrilineal family (many of whom succumbed to cancer at relatively young ages).
The third portion of the graphic novel is its most interesting: it deals with how Teva negotiates being sick in public. Although she is a seemingly healthy person to those who encounter her briefly on the subway or those who are introduced to her at a party, she lives with chronic pain, fear, uncertainty about the afterlife, how to best live however many in-between days she has left. It is compelling stuff, and a true reminder to live each of our days with compassion and kindness for those whose paths we cross, if only for a moment.
In-Between Days is shipping now for publication on April 23rd.
In-Between Days by Teva Harrison
House of Anansi Press
PB | $19.95 | April 23
Biography & Autobiography/Medical
Order from the University of Toronto Press