Learning how to Live Joyfully

Ever since she was a little girl, Teva Harrison drew. She studied art after high school. But, as it often goes, “needing to make a living, I digressed.”

After the explanation, Harrison laughs. A joyful, full, belly laugh.

To make a living, she worked as the director of marketing for the Nature Conservancy of Canada. She lived with her “perfect husband” in Toronto. She drew on the side. That’s who she was.

Now, she is the author of the graphic book, In-Between Days: a memoir about living with cancer. The book has gained Harrison stacks of accolades, The Globe and Mail named her one of 16 Torontonians to watch in 2016, Canada’s top media outlets want to interview her, she tours the book across the country. The tour includes a stop in Whitehorse and Dawson City. Harrison’s always wanted to come to the Yukon.

“I’m lucky,” she says. “But would I trade it all in to not have cancer? Absolutely.”

In between living the success of her memoir, Harrison makes lists of her possessions, “to make it easier for my husband when I die.”

Harrison found out in 2014 that she has stage IV, metastatic breast cancer. In her memoir, she wrote that such cancer forces her to count time in months, not years. This summer, seven of her friends died of cancer.

Having stage IV, metastatic breast cancer cut Harrison adrift from the life she knew. “Everything changed. I became separate. Death loomed over me.”

She began to draw to cope, and it gave her a sense of place. She showed her drawings to two people who were also living with metastatic breast cancer, “young women like myself.”

She showed her drawings to her friends “one at a time, because I’m kind of shy.”

Each friend told her that if she was up for it, she should share the drawings. They said it would help people feel less alone.

Harrison created a website and started uploading her drawings. After a month, the online editor of The Walrus Magazine asked Harrison if he could link the drawings to The Walrus’s website. After a month of that exposure, a publisher from the House of Anansi Press emailed Harrison, who recounts the exchange: “I think you have the beginning of a book here, if you want to. Do you want to talk?”

Harrison was drawing to cope. She wasn’t doing drawing them as a book until she talked to her publisher. Turning them into a book “was just a very comfortable process.”

That is lucky — to have the The Walrus ask to post drawings, to be solicited by one of the best publishing companies in the country, to be asked, ‘do you want to publish a book?’

And yet, it was because of cancer. “I don’t know how long it would have taken me to write a book if I didn’t have this terrifying possibility looming over me,” says Harrison.

Harrison is in Whitehorse on October 1 and 2. On Saturday the 1st from 1:30 to 4:00 pm, she is holding a graphic memoir-making workshop in the Artist’s Studio at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. On Sunday the second she is giving a reading and talk at the Whitehorse United Church, on Sixth Avenue and Main Street. That’s at 7:30 pm. On Monday, October 3 Harrison will give an artist talk to art students at KIAC, in Dawson City.

Register for the memoir workshop at Well Read Books in Whitehorse, and buy tickets for the Sunday evening talk at Mac’s Fireweed Books or Well Read Books.

The Friends of the Whitehorse Public Library arranged to bring Harrison to the Yukon. It is the first of the group’s author series, happening throughout the winter.

The talks and workshops “aren’t about dying,” says Harrison. “They’re about learning to live joyfully.”

Sharing her story and book creates compassion, she says. “Not just for people who are dying of cancer, for everyone.”

Harrison has a website: www.TevaHarrison.com. To see her Yukon itinerary, go to https://fowlevents.wordpress.com/.  

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