Written by Jory Gomes ’18
On Thursday March 15th, 2018, Hiram College’s Center for Literature and Medicine hosted a lecture by Teva Harrison, an esteemed graphic narrative author. Harrison was visiting campus not only to give a lecture and visit with students and faculty, but to guest judge Hiram’s Graphic Medicine Competition. Harrison’s graphic memoir titled In-Between Days: A Memoir about Living with Cancer was the focus of her visit, as Harrison showed students, through her narrative, what living with a terminal breast cancer diagnosis is like, and how she has experienced living with such an illness. For pre-medicine and other pre-health students, this kind of exposure is invaluable, but it should be noted that the lessons graphic medicine can teach have applicability in a vast array of disciplines. Learning what an illness experience is like is informative, and possibly even transformative, to someone who’s only interaction with the healthcare system is as a patient.
For Katie Geric ‘19, “meeting Tera Harrison was an incredible experience.” The aspiring doctor stated that “it was truly an honor to receive her perspective on illness and life” because of the nuanced observations she detailed in her narrative. Geric went on to say that “the form of a mixed medium graphic autopathography allowed her readers to become intimately familiar with her personal struggles with metastatic breast cancer.” Here Geric is explaining that through the use of visual images and a creative illustration style, Harrison was not only able to humanize the illness experience, but bring readers along for a more intimate ride than would have been possible with another medium.”
When asked about what her main takeaways from the lecture were, she said that Harrison saying that “the act of wearing a seatbelt and having a skin care regimen was courageous” for those with terminal diagnoses gave her perspective on her own life, and will stay with her as she continues her education. Finally, Geric said that Harrison’s “message of hope in the face of a surely terminal illness was truly touching” and that the lecture made her realize “that finding humility in your life is a very important virtue—someone else is always going to have it worse. Life is ephemeral. So it is worthwhile to seek out the beauty in it while you are able.”
Rebecca Pochedly ‘18, a hopeful future health professional, echoed some of Geric’s thoughts, and said that she “thought Harrison’s journey to acceptance of her diagnosis, through her drawing, was an inspiration for anyone struggling with an illness.” And this brings up a great point about the impact of Harrison’s work. Through her narrative, Harrison has been able to touch people who have different types of cancers, or chronic/terminal illnesses that aren’t cancer, and help them understand their feelings, and give them something to identify with. This presents graphic medicine as a conduit for those with terminal illnesses to claim ownership of their life, and find an agency that is hard to find when you have a terminal illness.
Jess Caspio ‘20, another Biomedical Humanities student agreed with Geric and Pochedly in saying that “the biggest takeaway that she had from Harrison’s lecture was her overwhelming fight for hope” that showed in the way Harrison “found beauty in every little or large thing in life—hoping to experience it all.” Caspio said that “the main thing that the main takeaways people should have learned from the event should be to live everyday like it your last and to not judge others before you know their story.” On how the use of graphic medicine in Harrison’s experience, Caspio said that because of the nature of graphic narratives, the reader can now “know what and how Harrison is feeling without even being told in words” because “the style of illustration shows how readers are supposed to feel while looking at it—jagged pictures show pain, and soft, whimsical drawings show peace.”
It is clear through the thoughts of three extraordinary students at Hiram, that graphic medicine is incredibly impactful. Not only can it empower those with terminal diagnoses, but transform the perspective of future physicians. Graphic medicine should be embraced and celebrated for the positive impacts it can have on students, patients, and healthcare providers alike. After all, we could all stand to live life more gratuitously—embracing each day, and taking stock of all things that make life worth living.