In-Between Days

In-Between Days is a memoir about living with cancer. For people who are sad-averse, this subject matter would be enough to keep them away from this book. Having it presented in a graphic novel format could be the last straw for the reader sitting on the fence. However, I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and experience this illustrated emotional, spiritual and physical cancer journey that Teva Harrison takes us on.

At the age of 37, Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, a disease that, at the time, was classified as incurable but controllable. Believing that she would be living with this disease as a chronic illness, Teva sought the help of a psychiatrist who worked in the oncology department at her hospital. Talking through her concerns led her to creating drawings of the dark emotions she was experiencing. Her doctor encouraged her to continue with this therapeutic exercise and from that encouragement, this graphic novel was born.

The reader is taken through Teva’s cancer journey from diagnosis through numerous treatments to her eventual acceptance of the incurability of the disease. The illustrations are done in black and white, which allowed her to depict her experience, both starkly and also more-lightheartedly. Visually, the drawings are stunning in their simplistic detail.

We learn of her first meeting with her soul-mate/husband David and the incredibly beautiful way their romance unfolded and the solidity of that relationship through some of Teva’s darkest moments.

Anyone who has experienced a devastating diagnosis of any kind, whether personally or alongside a friend or family member, will understand the oscillating moments of torment and hope that patients experience. The need for connection versus the need to be alone; the need to eat versus the emptiness of hunger; the need to get up and out versus the paralyzing fatigue that makes the smallest movement seem monumental. Harrison walks us through the map of the intimacies of her life with candor and humour. She was blessed with a family of exceptional women and that legacy and support was the steel in her spirit when the days seemed their darkest.

Spoiler alert. I’m not going to lie to you… by the time I reached the end, I really thought/hoped/prayed that Teva’s story would end well. And I think to a certain extent, it likely did insofar as she lived with passion and ferocity, in the face of an uncertain future. I expect that she packed more ‘living’ into her dying days than some people do in their ‘living’ days. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming tale told by a very brave and very talented woman.

— Nancy C.

The Path Made Clear

In all my years of reading, I’ve come to understand that I’m a mood reader. While many would argue that it’s important to be selective with what you read, I’d argue that when you read a particular book is just as important. How many books have you put aside because you weren’t in the mood for it? It’s difficult to predict when you are in the mood for a particular book, but when you select the right book at the right time, it’s a defining experience. Most times this moment is serendipitous, and you pick up the book you need most without even knowing it.

My most recent experience with this happened last week. My mom surprised me with a copy of The Path Made Clear by Oprah Winfrey. At first, I was confused. It was a new release I hadn’t heard of, and it wasn’t fiction (my go-to genre). All she said was, “I really think you need to read this.”

I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first. I’ve never read a self-help book before. I didn’t know how a stranger giving life advice would have any resounding impact on me. While advice from a trusted friend or family member is usually helpful (or at least intended to be helpful), could this book really help me find my purpose even if it is Oprah of all people leading the way? It’s just like when your parent tries to tell you not to do something, but you do it anyway. I assumed that applied to self-help books.

I set aside my uncertainties, and I discovered that The Path Made Clear is a guide that offers the framework to help you discover your life’s direction and purpose. No matter what life stage you find yourself in, this book can certainly help you evaluate, or re-evaluate, your life’s significance. Are you looking to find your purpose? Are you struggling to find meaning? What fulfills you? Who do you want to be? How do you want to make your mark in this world? This book provides the tools and wisdom to begin a discussion with yourself.

The book is divided into ten chapters that include reflections, interviews, and anecdotes from notable professionals in a variety of fields from the likes of Trevor Noah to Deepak Chopra. Each chapter begins with an introduction from Oprah herself who sets the theme of the chapter while encouraging you to reflect on who you are, what is meaningful to you, and how can you work towards actualizing that meaning.

This book comes at a time where I am in the midst of questioning my own life purpose, and how I wanted to contribute to our world in a meaningful way. While you shouldn’t expect to find fully formed answers in this book, I did find insights that made me pause and reflect. In a world full of expectation and noise, it can be especially difficult to listen to your inner voice when everything tries to drown it out. I started listening, wondering, and envisioning through each chapter.

If you’re looking for an uplifting and thoughtful discourse regarding meaning and purpose, then I think you should definitely borrow The Path Made Clear by Oprah Winfrey. If you’re also a fan of Oprah and her work on screen and on the page, you’ll also appreciate her latest book.

Maybe it’s Oprah, but this book was able to uplift me in a time when I felt stuck in the ground. But we don’t have to be stuck. As Oprah writes, “life is about growth and change, and when you are no longer doing either, you’ve received your first whisper” (45).

My Mom may have been right on this one (but don’t tell her).

— Eleni Z.

Autism in Heels

71K+4FtgxrLWhile browsing the “New Items” section of the WPL website, I came across a memoir entitled Autism in Heels : the untold story of a female life on the spectrum by Jennifer Cook O’Toole. O’Toole is the bestselling author of the Asperkids series of books, a motivational speaker along the likes of Tony Attwood, and is described as “…one of autism’s most prominent figures.” O’Toole certainly knows her stuff. Not only are her husband and all 3 of their children on the Autism spectrum, but she herself was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was 35 years old. She says that was when her “real life began.”

Although Autism is definitely a hot topic in the news right now, I don’t think I really had a true grasp of how difficult it is for children and their caregivers to receive a diagnosis, support and treatment, let alone how much it all costs.

I learned a lot from this book. I learned that in the not-so-distant past, Autism assessment screening tools were often gender-biased towards males. Girls often had to present more obvious characteristics to even be noticed, and experts believed autistic girls had “…more severe symptoms and more significant intellectual disabilities.”

I also learned that girls with autism are more prone to eating disorders, inflicting self-harm, and to be victims of abuse. Another thing was that people with autism can feel overwhelming compassion and empathy for others, to the point that it literally hurts them to see someone else or something else hurting.

I have to say, however, that I found this book difficult to read. O’Toole suffered through a lot of bullying as well as mental, physical, and sexual abuse in her life before her diagnosis. There are even content warnings for a couple of chapters later in the book. These are difficult topics to read about but to discover the author thought her mistreatment was deserved or her fault? To learn how hard she tried her whole life to make friends and feel accepted. Absolutely heartbreaking.

O’Toole has a huge list of accomplishments but at times I felt as though she was still seeking acceptance and acknowledgement from me as a reader. O’Toole confesses to having a “… jumpy thinking style.” I often found her writing style to be repetitive or fragmented and I could not read more than a few pages at a time before stopping for a break.

Do not be discouraged from reading this worthy book. I refused to give up on this less-than-easy read and gained valuable, important information and insight.

— Sandy W.

 

Fighting Cancer. Finding Courage.

“Courage is not always big and bright and loud; sometimes it’s as silent and small as true words, a smile when you’d rather weep, or getting up every day and living with quiet dignity while all around your life rages. You cannot truly love, live or exist without courage. Without it you are simply biding time until you die.”

In 2013 Angelina Jolie made headlines when she announced she had undergone a preventative double mastectomy. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Approximately 10 per cent of these cancers will be caused by BRCA1 gene mutation. Those who carry the gene have a drastically increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer at a young age. After learning she carried this gene, Jolie made the decision to reduce her risk and removed both her breasts and later her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Although the gene is hereditary, gene testing is the only way to know if you are a carrier. Jolie is an advocate for gene testing, believing that knowledge is power. She encourages women to learn their options.

wendy-mills-author-photoPositively Beautiful by Wendy Mills begins with 16-year-old Erin heading to school on an ordinary Tuesday. She attends class, laughs with her best friend and studies for a physics test. But her ordinary day comes to a screeching halt when her mother announces she has breast cancer. Life is now split into two categories: before the cancer and after the diagnosis. To make the situation even worse, the cancer was caused by the BRCA gene. Erin has a 50 per cent chance of being a carrier of the gene. However, Erin cannot be tested until she is 18. Even then, the healthcare community recommends she wait until she’s 25 and see a genetic counselor before even thinking about being tested.

How is anyone not supposed to think about such a terrifying situation? Erin is consumed with thoughts of the unknown. Will she have to remove her breasts? She bought her very first bra just a few years before. She hasn’t even thought about having children. Now she’ll have to remove her ovaries? Suddenly the everyday dramas of teenage life seem small and trivial. No one her age can possibly imagine what it’s like to be faced with these decisions. Erin reads about a direct-to-consumer company that will conduct the gene test without having to go through a medical provider. Without telling anyone, she jumps at the chance to find out her status.

When her test comes back positive she reaches out to an online forum for young BRCA gene carriers. She meets a young lady named Ashley who helps her find her own inner strength.

There are some very emotional passages in Positively Beautiful. Both Erin and her mother are incredibly strong women. Although cancer is part of the plot, the main theme of the book isn’t illness, it is courage. Erin shows us that courage lives in all of us, we just need to know where to look.

— Lesley L.

Baring one’s soul

The Memory of Light is a beautiful book about a serious situation. It was like reading someone’s bare soul – brave and honest. It breaks through the glorified clichés that so often surround stories of suicide to capture a realistic account of depression.

Vicky Cruz comes from a wealthy family. She has people who love her. She has more opportunities and privileges than most. Her depression is not caused by a specific event or trauma. Her suicide attempt shocks everyone and has her family begging the question ‘why?’. Vicky can only reply that it is possible to be loved and still want to kill yourself.

What I liked best about The Memory of Light is its realism. It’s not a fairy tale where she finds the meaning of life and suddenly all is well. It treats depression as exactly what it is: a disease. It isn’t something that will simply go away – she will have to deal with it for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, there will always be people who fail to grasp that concept. In the book, her father doesn’t understand her illness and probably never will, even impatiently asking her at one point if she’s still suicidal, as if it’s something she should have gotten over by now.

Perhaps the book is so real because author Fransico X. Stork has his own battle with depression. In his author’s note he writes that mental illness has affected him most of his life and he wanted to write a story ‘not about the downward spiral toward darkness, but about the much harder, much more hopeful and suspenseful steps toward light.’

The novel follows Vicky as she takes baby steps to recovery. The ground she walks on is often shaky and uneven. There are no short cuts. But she meets others along the path – young people her own age that are also battling mental illness. Each person she meets is from a completely different background, illustrating the idea that depression does not discriminate.

The Memory of Light is one of those rare stories that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. I still find myself wondering about Vicky and her family.  I do hope Fransico X. Stork continues writing, as anything he publishes will immediately go on my holds list.

-Lesley L.

In good health

One of my favourite things about working in the library is the treasures I find shelving or among the returns in the book chute. Many times, my interest is captured by an item I would never have thought to search the catalogue for on my own. Hot Detox, by Registered Holistic Nutritionist Julie Daniluk, is new to the library and one of my latest finds. The title hooked me right away, and when I quickly flipped through the book I found lots of beautiful photographs and healthy-looking recipes.

Later, at home, I discovered whole chapters dedicated to cleansing toxins from your “gut”, liver, lymph system, kidneys, lungs and skin. Julie Daniluk, who is also the author of the Meals that Heal Inflammation and Slimming Meals that Heal cookbooks, explains how she suffered from colitis and joint pain for years until she began to experiment and eat foods that reduced inflammation in her body. In Hot Detox, Daniluk takes her experience and learning even further, by using warming spices in all the recipes, traditional Ayurvedic practices from India, and medicinal techniques from China. Hot Detox provides a 3 day, 10 day, or 21 day detox plan, each complete with suggested menus.

I decided to try the 21 day detox. In the first 9 days of the plan (Phase 1) you are weaned from gluten, dairy, refined sugar and caffeine. This sounds way worse than it is!  I did have a bad headache for a couple of days, which Daniluk suggests could be caused by shifting hormones or toxins, dehydration, or caffeine withdrawal. Phase 2 of the detox (days 10, 11, and 12) eliminates animal products and relies heavily on liquids. Phase 3 allows you to choose whether you want to remain vegan or reintroduce animal products again. There is also more of a focus on rebooting and nourishing all the systems in your body.

I have to say I really surprised myself!  Not only did I stick to the plan, but I didn’t feel hungry or have cravings. I tried lots of new-to-me foods, such as hemp hearts, chia seeds, coconut flour, and coconut milk. My whole family found the supper recipes to be especially good, and some even provided leftovers for another meal. I think the only recipe I really didn’t like was called Detox Rocket, which was a smoothie that included boiled beets. Other members of my family, who are counting calories, didn’t like the fact that the detox recipes do not include a nutritional breakdown. To save money, I went to Bulk Barn to get only the amounts I needed of ingredients I wasn’t sure I would use again after the detox, rather than buy them in big bags at Goodness Me or the grocery store. Some of the recipes also require additional preparation time, so I either chopped up ingredients in advance, or tried the recipe on a day that wasn’t as busy.

I lost 12 pounds on the 21 day detox plan. People ask me, “But how do you FEEL?”  Other than the obvious answer, “I feel great!  I lost 12 pounds!” I think the biggest change happened after the detox was over, when I ate a cookie a friend had made. One small taste of refined sugar and I felt very sick for several hours. This has only given me more incentive to carry on, and I have now borrowed Meals that Heal Inflammation and Slimming Meals that Heal. All three of Daniluk’s books are available at the Main Library, and the John M. Harper and McCormick branches.

Hot Detox has been shortlisted for the Taste Canada Cookbook Awards 2017.  Daniluk, who lives in Toronto, has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, is a resident expert for The Marilyn Denis Show, and hosts The Healthy Gourmet on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).  Daniluk’s blog, free recipes and video cooking classes can be found on her website at http://www.juliedaniluk.com.

-Sandy W.