In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer By Teva Harrison, Toronto Canada, House of Anansi Press, 2016, 163 pgs, Illustrated, Memoir. Released in March 2017
In-Between Days is the book we (in the breast cancer community) should all be lining up for. If you’ve ever wondered what life is really like for someone living with a terminal diagnosis, this is the book for you. Teva Harrison is a beautifully simple, honest and heart-wrenchingly hopeful writer and artist, who at the age of 37 was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She chronicles her experience in this illustrated memoir with an overriding message of hope, even in the dark and quiet spaces that cancer occupies.
I occupy the liminal spaces, slipping between unnoticed. It’s like living in the shadows.
This is a quick, easy and enlightening piece of storytelling. Harrison writes so candidly and eloquently that she doesn’t need to fill entire pages with words. It is simply enough to take in her comic-book-style illustrations and the interludes of brief, captivatingly naked narrative. Nothing about this book is sugar-coated and there is a distinct absence of the pink overtones you so often get when reading about breast cancer. This book is full of gripping honesty, big existential questions along with ridiculous hope, wonder and delight. She writes, “Hope is delicious, heady stuff, but reality has a way of upsetting the applecart.” Reminding us that hope requires balance.
Living with cancer requires hope. I am chock full of hope, mostly because I need it to get through every single day. Hope means that I can go on.
I was hooked by the end of page one. Here at The Underbelly we’re all about shining light on the darker sides of breast cancer. Our main objective is to discuss and give voice to the things we shy away from and rarely express in the open. Right from the start Harrison immediately depicts her storytelling as a way to take “some of the power away from the bogeyman that is my cancer.” Noting that by shining the light on these dark experiences she is able to reclaim her power and that is something we all want to be able to do.
The discovery of Harrison’s cancer took some time. Like many, her diagnosis was preceded by aches and pains that seemed at first to just be a sign of simply aging only to wind up in the emergency room from excruciating back pain where she was subsequently sent home with pain medication to manage what the doctor concluded was a “mechanical injury” from overworked muscles and joints. A couple of months later, Harrison would find a lump in her breast leading to the surprising and devastating diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer.
This memoir addresses so many of the underlying issues and casualties brought on by a terminal diagnosis. She touches on the more openly discussed topics like pain, pain management, insomnia, genetics, heredity, and side-effects but also dives deeply into the more quietly kept matters (the underbelly) of living with terminal cancer. Matters like motherhood, looking healthy as opposed to feeling healthy, medically induced menopause, sexual dysfunction, and what vaginismus is. Harrison is keenly aware of the struggle and the importance of listening to her body, trusting it, and responding and caring for it accordingly despite feeling betrayed by it.
I have to make myself choose the light, choose the best things I can do, the things that make me the most well in the head and center me in my body.
If you think you are going to pick this book up and just be sad, you are mistaken. Harrison talks about falling in love, about marriage, family and friends and how they have helped her in their own capable ways to sustain hope, practice self-compassion and embrace the good days. She keeps it real, grounded and even funny. You get the sense that she is very much in the moment, not looking too far back or too far ahead. She acknowledges feelings of jealousy, fear, anxiety, and blame that anyone who’s had a cancer diagnosis can understand. Not shying away from the bigger matters either, she tackles her issues of faith and of course death and what happens after you die. You will feel all the feelings with Harrison as you read.
I understand now, though, the fear of being forgotten, of being erased.
Harrison says yes to more things than she used to. She writes about wanting to “suck the marrow out of life” because she has nothing to lose and that is an attribute to be celebrated. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has been impacted by terminal illness, not just breast cancer patients, but anyone who needs to be reminded that there is no time like the present.
Order your copy now at Amazon.
Teva Harrison is a writer and artist. She lives in Toronto, Ontario with the love of her life, David.
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