In-Between Days: A Memoir about Living with Cancer is an accurate and suggestive title. At 37, Teva Harrison was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer with metastases to her bones. She lives between hopes for new treatments allowing a useful life but also fears about debility—some already caused by her treatments—and death. An artist, she has created a hybrid of a graphic novel with comic-book style drawing on the left page and traditional prose facing on the right, with variations of this format now and then.     
The imaginative world of the book ranges widely in mood, topic, and subject matter, and there is a helpful organization to group the material.
Her Preface tells us how drawing helped her gain some power over “the bogeyman that is my cancer” (p. 1). In her Prologue, she tells of “living in the shadows,” or “liminal spaces,” but choosing to occupy these as best she can (p. 3).            

Part One lays out the medical facts and dilemmas. The sections are Diagnosis, Treatment, and Side Effects. The author describes the turmoil of being sick with no clear cause, the emotional impact of the serious diagnosis on her and her family, also nausea, loss of fertility, dilemmas of pain management, and many side effects of treatment, including weight loss as well as sudden and torturous menopause.
Part Two explains her social status, her marriage, her “mixed-bag inheritance” (including high-risk Ashkenazi genes), and social aspects, including feeling invisible as a patient, accepting help from friends, being in a support group, and what does a likely “early demise” mean for her, an atheist?

Part Three explores the many emotions in sections for hope (using clinical trials, for example), gratitudes (“At least I’m wasting, not bloating”), wishes, fears, and “Managing Anxiety at Home” (pictures of yoga, gardening, long walks, house cleaning), self-blame, and—nonetheless—dreams. The final section “Incurable” names her current status: “In treatment for the rest of my life,” but the facing picture shows her as a large powerful bird flying among dramatic clouds with the words “I mean what do I have to lose?” Her prose affirms: “Live like a tornado, when I can.” 


The graphic images are in bold black and white with dramatic sureness of line. The drawing is concise and strangely expressive, given that most figures are done with little shading. The effect is direct, dramatic, and uncompromising. We have many close-ups of faces and hands. Teva’s, of course, also David’s (her husband). Although done as comic-book figures, we feel we come to know them. There is a wide range of composition for the graphic pages: sometimes a single image, or more, sometimes overlapping, even 12 small cells done as a Sunday comic strip in rows and columns. We find an elaborate parody in the drawing of an arcade game Whac-A-Mole; it shows the brain, a liver, bones, etc. emerging from black circles. Below we read, “There’s no point trying to cut it out, because it will just keep popping up somewhere else.” (p. 20).     
The supporting prose is clear and direct, with a wide range of moods: serious, playful, funny, ironic, despairing, joyful.
Between graphics and prose we get to know Teva’s intelligence, emotional range, wit and wisdom, as well as her determination to live with and beyond her disease. There are poignant details, for instance rising at 2:30 a.m. for an MRI study because demand is so high in Toronto. In the machine there is a Dora The Explorer sticker inches above her face. “I focus on Dora, who smiles right back at me, ready for adventure” (p. 33).            
We enter the private, domestic, and personal life of Teva and David with, it seems, no taboos. When removal of her ovaries causes sudden menopause, she has many unpleasant symptoms, including vaginismus: “my vagina had just dried up and closed up shop” (p. 61). Intercourse with her husband becomes impossible. Fortunately her sensitive OB/GYN has some strategies for improvement. While he receives praise, Teva criticizes other “well-intentioned doctors [who] missed” the initial diagnosis. “Once they found a plausible explanation, the doctors didn’t bother to verify” (p. 8).  
The comic-strip page for “The ‘Big Change’” shows Teva’s many symptoms but also makes clear she is speaking on a microphone, presumably to an audience of women who need the kind of information she did not get (p. 58). Again, apparently giving advice, Teva, against a black background and with finger raised, warns, “You get lulled by the casual optimism of nurses,” when treatment failure is always possible (p. 71). The author’s note at the end says that she speaks “publicly on behalf of the metastatic cancer community,” does commentary on radio, and writes and draws for print media. And now this book!
As a cancer survivor (of a much less serious but nonetheless frightening cancer), I could easily relate to the mental turmoil of the disease, the treatment, and the caregivers who were merely technical without recognizing patients’ emotional needs.    
The book’s range of topics and moods, its double-barreled and effective use of comics and prose, and its sensitivity to many factors in illness and treatment make this a highly recommended book.  


The cover shows a dramatic image of a swimming mermaid. In contrast with the the images in the book, it is in radiant colors. The author, we learn, is a professional artist.    


House of Anansi Press

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