Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In-Between Days - a memoir about living with cancer

I have been reading a book by a friend who is dying from incurable metastatic breast cancer. Well, perhaps not a friend, more a colleague of my wife, but we have met several times socially over the years, so I count her as a friend, especially as I don't have too many acquaintances who are published authors.
"In-Between Days" is by Teva Harrison, a bubbly blonde bon viveur with a keen intellect and a rock-solid commitment to environmentalism. She is a Jewish atheist, an American by birth and a Canadian by choice, a party girl with a great love of music and dancing, and a tough-as-nails grass-roots campaigner. At the tender age of 37, though, Teva was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer that had already metastasized into her bones and liver. In her typically assertive way, she threw herself into research, experimental drugs, inspirational speaking, and now a book of her experiences.
The book is a reasonably short, large-format book, part comic strip and part text, with the descriptive subtitle "A memoir about living with cancer". It is a warts-and-all account of hospital visits, mental struggles and social difficulties, interspersed with dark humour, family lore, and insightful observations on what it is really like to be sentenced to a cruelly shortened life of pain and dashed hopes. The book juxtaposes the minor, everyday, physical challenges with the overwhelming existential predicaments and debates that cancer brings with it, and is shot through with wistful anecdotes from Teva's bucolic childhood in hippy, rural Oregon, and tales of her eccentric family. It is a painfully honest, almost voyeuristic, account of the chaos that cancer wreaks on a person's life and dreams, and yet it manages to remain somehow uplifting and edifying. It is an object lesson in graceful decline, and a testament to the value of family and friends.
I'm not saying this is a perfect book - the illustrations I found were merely adequate, and the writing is competent and heartfelt but hardly high literature - but it nevertheless offers a fascinating, and rather humbling, insight into coping with terminal cancer, and the kind of character and attitude needed to deal with it with at least a modicum of grace.
The book has garnered some rave reviews and plenty of media attention here in Toronto; here's hoping it soon reaches a wider audience. It is a subject almost everyone has to come terms with in one way or another, sooner or later, and we need all the help we can get.

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