Book Review: In-Between Days Is A Powerful Reflection On Living With Cancer

When we talk about physical illness, we often think of it as a purely mechanic problem with mechanical solutions. If you have a cold, you take medicine and stay home until it clears up. You get your appendix removed, and after a few weeks rest you’re fine. Life goes on, and most of our illnesses are temporary. Cancer, however, is a whole other beast, even if it’s curable. And for Teva Harrison, there is no cure. For her, it isn’t just mechanical at all. It isn’t just what cancer is doing to her body, it is also what it does to her life plans, her mental health and her very identity.

In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer is a result of Harrison using her artistic abilities to come to terms with her illness. She reflects both on her life with cancer and how she now looks back on her life. It is a graphic novel in the sense that Hyperbole and a Half was a graphic novel; each piece of sequential art is followed with text that elaborates on her thoughts and experiences.

What particularly caught my attention was her struggles as a lifelong vegetarian/almost vegan and accepting drugs that were tested on animals. She writes, “Being honest with myself can be really uncomfortable. Cancer is revealing my deepest, darkest hypocrisies while it shows me just how selfish I am. In my desperation to live, I find that I can, indeed, accept some collateral damage in the war under my skin.” I am vegan myself and the community does grapple with this dilemma. The general consensus is, yes, take your meds! But while medication is essential, it still feels like a sting of hypocrisy.

And that I think is also why there’s a certain subset who believe that if you just take care of yourself, you won’t get cancer. Harrison’s cancer is genetic, there’s no question about that, but even she struggles with the idea that clean living could save her. She cuts out sugars and tries many different ‘natural’ remedies. While sick in the ER waiting room, a man tells her callously that she just needs to eat better. It reminds me of when vegan cookbook author and blogger Sarah Kramer got breast cancer. She blogged about her experiences and I remember a lot of comments like “Have you tried turmeric?” and occasionally some asshole would say something like “Vegans can’t get cancer, she must have been doing something wrong.” It’s a really unhealthy mindset in the vegan, whole foods, and healthy eating communities that I think come from a fear of lack of control. But the truth is, while healthy living may keep many illnesses at bay, several do not give a shit how many organic smoothies you down each morning and breast cancer is one of them.

Harrison’s thoughts drift from medical procedures, to her relationships, and how even little interactions are now affected by cancer. Even the question, “What do you do?” is now loaded, when you’re too sick to really work anymore. She also deals with the fact that she isn’t performing cancer the way others expect. She has hair, she kept her breasts, and she mostly looks okay. It’s an invisible war inside her that does not reflect to strangers, and it makes her feel like a cancer imposter.

This is a book that many people can relate to, and not just to those whose lives have been touched by cancer, but by anyone who has dealt with chronic illnesses. It is a powerful, emotional read you will not soon forget.

In-Between Days is published by House of Anansi. It is already available in Canada, and will become available in the US March 14, 2017. It is available for preorder on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.