Metro Morning

Toronto artist, Teva Harrison, draws her journey through terminal cancer

After Teva Harrison discovered she had terminal cancer in her mid-30s, she turned to her drawing to provide an escape from her troubles. She told CBC's Metro Morning about the graphic memoir she's created.

Teva Harrison says disease 'can be diminishing' but drawing helps her forget

In response to her terminal cancer diagnosis, Teva Harrison began to draw comics to deal with her emotions. Her art became a published memoir known as In-Between Days. (Teva Harrison/Facebook)

Teva Harrison was in her mid-30s when she started feeling a pain in her back and hips. 

The Toronto visual artist first thought the pain was part of getting older. Even carrying bags of groceries was a struggle for Harrison. Training for a half-marathon at the time, her doctor figured she might have injured herself.

After she found a lump in her breast a couple of months later, she discovered she had stage four cancer. 

"I felt like the floor had fell out from under me," she said on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "I remember hearing the words: 'We're no longer looking for a cure.'"

She continued: "I remember feeling really lost."

'It can be diminishing'

In response to her terminal diagnosis, she began to draw comics to deal with her emotions. The result is a published graphic memoir called In-Between Days, which is about living with cancer. 

"Cancer makes a lot of people feel really uncomfortable," she explained to host Matt Galloway. "People don't necessarily know what to say. And in not knowing what to say, they pull away." 

Harrison said people in her life either vanished or looked at her with "sad eyes."

"It can be diminishing," she said, adding that when people look at her that way, she feels like they don't see a person; they see the cancer.  

An image from Teva Harrison's graphic memoir, In-Between Days, depicting her struggle against the day-to-day trials of terminal cancer. (House Of Anansi Press Inc.)

"Yes, I have this disease and this disease will eventually kill me, but until then, I'm me."

She said she is living with metastatic breast cancer, which has invaded several parts of her body. She noted since the diagnosis, the disease has spread to her liver. 

"I don't have as much energy as I used to have," she admitted. "My pain is well managed."

'Drawing is a reprieve'

Harrison said her cancer forces her to choose how she wants to spend the few hours of energy she has in her day.

"Regardless of what's going on in my life, cancer takes precedence," she explained. "It's always going to be first."

Fortunately for Harrison, she has found a way to make herself feel good about life through art.

"Drawing is a reprieve," she said. "It's like a break from rumination."

She explained how the art of thinking through what she wants to draw, acting on it and executing it helps her forget her everyday issues.

"I get to escape into the flow of an act that has nothing to do with actually being sick." 

Even if her drawing relates to cancer, she said she still feels good doing it. 

"It's a gift."

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