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At the age of 37, Teva Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. 

 

It was one of the darkest times in her life and a time when she felt lost, as most people diagnosed with this form of cancer are only given two to three years to live. 

Harrison is now 41, and drawings from her graphic novel, In Between Days: A Memoir about Living with Cancer are on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG.) 

"When I was first diagnosed I had a really hard time finding resources that gave me information that was forward and direct and didn't pull any punches," Harrison said. "It was really important to me to include the difficult conversations that come with having breast cancer in the book." 

Harrison used her drawings as a release, a way to cope with her diagnoses and a way for her to explore topics related to living with cancer that are often swept aside. At first, she kept them to herself, but after two of her friends - who were also diagnosed with the same type of cancer - saw her drawings, they told her sharing them could help others living with the disease cope. 

"At that point I hadn't been public with my diagnosis, I had been quite private, telling only my inner circle and not talking about it on social media because it was a difficult thing to come to terms with," Harrison said. "I had to sit with that. That idea of making the work public because it forced me to make my diagnosis public." 

"But that idea of potentially helping other people who felt the same way I did kept nagging at me so within a couple months I decided I wanted to share the drawings so hopefully they'd find the right people." 

She started a blog that gained traction and then received a call from the online editor of The Walrus, who wanted to publish the comics. After that she was contacted by her publisher, who told her she should compile the drawings and essays into a graphic novel. 

Harrison wasn't expecting the project to gain this kind of momentum, but when it did, it reached people going through the same experience she was and made her feel like she wasn't alone. 

"It's been very community building for me," Harrison said. "Metastatic breast cancer can be hard in terms of community building. Both of those women who encouraged me to share the work died this winter and it's hard to hold on to a core of community, so having a more amorphous community where people drift in and out of contact when it's useful to them has been very helpful in helping me living with my disease." 

Harrison and her husband visited Winnipeg earlier in 2017. Her husband knows WAG Director & CEO Stephen Borys, who Harrison says stopped by to "say hello." 

"He started asking me questions about what I do, but I think it became pretty clear that he knew exactly what I do," Harrison said, laughing. "He was interested in potentially showing the work and one of the things he told me was he wanted to shine a light on places where people don't necessarily go joyfully or willingly." 

"It can be difficult to talk about this stuff and having the artwork can really start those conversations. There's a lot of opportunity to think about things in a different way." 

The exhibit will be at the WAG until January 13, 2018. Harrison is in Winnipeg to participate in a talk and Q and A on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017 at the WAG at 2 pm.