There’s no playbook for dealing with disease and death, so when comic artist Teva Harrison was diagnosed in 2013 with metastatic breast cancer at age 37, she was inspired to write her own. In-Between Days is her frank chronicle of the pain, uncertainty and, yes, humour of it all.
Why be so explicit about the realities of cancer treatment in the book — like sexual dysfunction and feeling like sushi on a platter on the MRI table?
When I got sick, I couldn’t find that kind of information — what it actually feels like. [There were] a lot of blogs where people talked about the clinical side of things and being afraid. I once posted about sexual dysfunction on a message group for women with breast cancer, and I got a bunch of responses. It’s important to say, “Look, you’re not alone.”
You talk about the hope we invest in mundane practices like seven-step skin regimens and recycling. Does living with a terminal illness change how you perceive those things?
One of the first things I did when I found out I had cancer was get a 10-year passport, not a five-year passport. I compulsively walk through the house turning off lights. I can’t have children, but I want the world to be a beautiful place for my nieces and nephews. And I think part of giving up is saying, “Whatever, I’m going to eat ice cream three meals [a day].”
Disease is common, and death is inevitable, but we still struggle to manage the grief that comes with it.
I’ve been thinking about the idea that when we get sick, we disappear. At work, there’s no going-away party. With a disease like mine that drags on a long time, there’s some fatigue. [Friends] pull back, and I pull back a little because I don’t have the energy. There are all these factors that lead to someone slipping away before they’re gone.
As someone who is sick, what would you want to hear from people who aren’t?
I don’t want to talk about cancer all the time. I want to talk about art, books, culture and politics — the same things I was interested in before. I don’t feel like a dying person, so I’ve had a hard time getting into the mindset that that’s essentially what I am. But not yet. And hopefully not for a long time. Some women are lucky, and I plan to be one.