Caitlin James


Diagnosis: Breast Cancer (Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Estrogen Receptive)
Location: San Francisco
Insta: @coulda.woulda
Blog:  medium@caitlinjames

Diagnosis Story:

There it was. My lump. I knew what it was the moment my hand ran across it the first time.

“It’s twelve o’clock,” the nurse said. I looked at her strangely as she pressed the sonogram wand into the tissue of my breast. “Your mass,” she explained, “it’s located at twelve o’clock from the nipple.”

My mom cried first, then I. That was the first time I had ever seen someone suffering because I was suffering. I would see it many times more in the months to come, but the first time was the hardest.

Surgery was easy. Pop a pill, poke a needle, perv on the hot anesthesiologist, pass the fuck out, wake up, drink juice, eat crackers, press the morphine button, voluntarily tell your aunt about the most mortifying moment of your life, go home, sleep.

It was the lead up to surgery that was hard. There are dozens of tests, insurance headaches, prescriptions to fill, people to tell, work to schedule, life to still be lived, and it all just happens so fast, but not nearly fast enough. Everyday leading up to it there is this ominos anxiety that weighs down your chest as you prepare yourself for battle.

During my surgery they removed a 4cm tumor and three of my sentinel lymph nodes. The biopsy on the lymph nodes would determine if I was Stage 2A or 2B, the difference being whether or not I would be recommended for chemotherapy. I waited anxiously for the call. Then about a week later it came.

“Two did not have cancer, one did,” the surgeon delivered the news in a gentle voice. One lymph node with cancer cells is all it takes to spread the disease through your entire body. “Chemotherapy is being recommended.”

The thing about treating breast cancer that sucks the most is not the pain or sickness you endure (we are women after all, incredibly resilient to pain). The hardest part is the assault on your identity, your womanhood. The treatment attacks every part of your femininity.

First your breasts, then your hair, your fertility, the shape of your body, your sex drive, your hormones, your skin. literally. fucking. everything.

As a visual artist whose works center primarily around the female form and sensuality, painting has helped me process these emotions that would have otherwise overwhelmed me. The day after I was diagnosed, my mother showed up to my house with a basket full of paints.

“Make something beautiful out of this.”

It’s not that easy. Everyday I fight the urge to mush the paint all together into one ugly grey blob because right now everything feels so ugly.

But I carry on, knowing that, like everything in life, this situation is temporary. And soon, this too shall pass.