What I Did on My Summer Vacation

August 4, 2017 @ 6:45 pm | Filed under:

Those of you who followed our previous interstate move in 2006 know that it’s highly unusual for me to have said so little, thus far, about this new adventure, our move from San Diego to Portland. If I’ve been quiet here, it’s because there has been so. much. to say. Too much!

The move had been under discussion for months—years, really, some pieces of it—and in early June we decided that this summer, mid-August perhaps, was the right time. For one thing, there was a job calling me, one that will fit more amiably into a writing-teaching-homeschooling life than grantwriting did; and further, it’s an advocacy job made more imperative by this year’s perpetual threats to disability services budgets. Another consideration was the timing of our older girls’ college plans. And then we had long since outgrown our little San Diego rental, but had no prospect of moving into a bigger house at SoCal prices.

SoCal kitchen

She was a lot shorter when we moved into that house

Long story short: it was time to move. I booked a ticket to fly up in late June to look for a rental with the help of Ron, one of my closest friends.

I was feeling pretty swamped in June. Lots and lots of work on my plate, and the idea of getting the household packed and ready to move by August seemed darn near impossible. When the appointment reminder came for my mammogram, I came very close to canceling it. After all, I’d had one only six months earlier. But the reason they wanted to see me again so soon was because that December one had been my first, so there was no baseline, and there had been a few little calcification specks that the radiologist wanted to keep an eye on. So I heaved a sigh and dragged myself, oh beleaguered me, to the appointment, grumbling all the way.

The cluster of specks was a bit bigger. Nothing at all to worry about, they assured me; these are quite common in women who breastfed; but we can’t send you on your way without doing a quick biopsy just to be extra, extra sure.

That was June 5th. The biopsy was scheduled for June 16th. On the 6th or 7th, Ron spotted a likely-looking rental prospect on Craigslist. He arranged for a showing on the 8th, bringing me along via Facetime. The house hit all the marks on our wish list—location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, good work spaces for Scott and me, a nice little backyard—except one: it was available on the first of July, not August, meaning that if we wanted it, we’d have to pay for it to sit empty for a good six weeks.

But we’re a big family, you know, and the Portland rental market is fierce—and likely to get fiercer as the summer rolled on. We decided to apply for the house. I still had my ticket for the end of June, so I figured I’d fly up and see it in person. I made a call to the special education department of the Portland school district and set up a meeting to see the school Stevie would be likely to attend. Scott and I began to consider moving a wee bit earlier, perhaps in late July, right after Comic-Con, to try to cut down on the overlapping rent. I would begin telling people, I decided, after that late-June trip.

I said I wasn't going to bring the Wedgits. I brought the Wedgits.

I said I wasn’t going to bring the Wedgits. I brought the Wedgits.

The biopsy was on Friday, June 16th. I wasn’t worried about the results. Too busy with deadlines and panicked thoughts of the impossibility of getting us packed and moved in late July—and highly frustrated by being laid up for a few days to recover from the procedure, which had left me in more pain than I expected. I also had a new section of my four-week Comic Strip Capers class starting at Brave Writer on the 19th, so I was occupied in prepping for that.

To my utmost annoyance, I had to had to go see my primary doctor in person to get the results of the biopsy. When she broke the news (rather clumsily, truth be told), I had trouble believing it at first. Scott too. It took us a good 24 hours to wrap our heads around the reality of the words invasive lobular carcinoma.

Things I learned in the next few days: it’s a slow-growing cancer (whew), but it’s sneaky. We caught it very early—perhaps as early as it was possible to catch.

That was June 21st, the diagnosis. A Wednesday, and I was due to fly to Portland on the Saturday. We’d been flung into a whirlwind. What to do? Scrap the move, stay in San Diego? What about work? What about everything?

My doctor set up consults with surgery and oncology, but she couldn’t get anything earlier than July. I reached out to a doctor friend in Portland, who, bless her, connected me with a breast surgeon there. Here. And this surgeon was amazing. She understood my predicament, this preposterous timing, and arranged to see me on the Tuesday of my Portland trip, if I wanted to go ahead and get on the plane on Saturday.

So that’s what I did. On the Friday, Scott and I made the 45-minute drive to Torrey Pines to pick up copies of all my films and records. That long, traffic-congested drive certainly factored into our decision-making later. So did the July consult dates.

On Saturday the 24th, I flew to Portland. Ron took me straight to the house and it was even sweeter in person than on Facetime.

On Sunday, we went to the Rose Garden and I had a chance to breathe a little.

International Rose Test Garden in Portland

Photo by Larry Deal

On Monday, I met with the special ed administrator and principal of Steven’s new school. It was a good meeting and I was pleased with the program.

On Tuesday, I met with the surgeon. She was awesome. And she urged me to have the surgery as soon as possible, ideally within a month of diagnosis, whether in San Diego or in Portland. It looked like we had caught the cancer before it hit the lymph nodes, so the sooner we removed it, the better. That complicated the timeline more than a little, because Comic-Con began on July 20. And the vacation schedules of the San Diego doctors were pushing things into a much later space if we chose to stay there.

I could keep going with the blow-by-blow, but you already know how it played out. The house that had been going to sit empty for six weeks was ready and waiting for us. We decided to give up Comic-Con and move to Portland as soon as possible. Which, thanks to hours and hours of help from our TRULY AMAZING San Diego friends, was July 11th.

moving day

My parents took the younger kids to Colorado for a couple of weeks during the move and the surgery. The rest of us arrived in Portland on July 13 and waited for the moving truck. My Brave Writer class wrapped up on the 14th. The truck arrived on the 17th. On the 20th—the first day of Comic-Con, when we would have been enjoying our annual curry date with our dear friend Jock, and then the Scholastic party and the CBLDF party—I had my surgery. We spent the two days before the surgery unpacking like mad. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it afterward and I wanted home to seem homey when my parents brought the younger kids to join us on the 24th.

Rilla makes a friend

Photo by Murray Brannon

The surgery went well. I was a little blue that weekend—I hated the way the pain meds fogged my brain, and I was sad to miss our 8th annual SDCC Kidlit Drinks Night—but the flowers and dinners and notes from friends and helped perk me up. And on the Monday, there was the fun of showing the new digs to the younger kids and my parents.

SDCC Kidlit Drinks Night 2017

This brought a big smile to my face, too. Love you guys!!

So here we are in early August, still weeks ahead of our original move schedule, unpacked, post-op, and settling in. The younger kids and I got library cards (and eclipse glasses!) this morning. Rose has already found a temp job.

Ever since that first awful news on June 21st, the news has been good. Caught early. Removed before it spread to the nodes. Very small. Last week the pathology report came back, and I learned that I won’t need chemo. That’s huge. I’m so relieved.

big old Portland horse chestnuts

They grow ’em big here

Since I chose the lumpectomy option, I’ll need radiation—daily for four weeks, beginning the end of this month. Before then, I’ll go in for my radiation planning appointment, which means, yes, I moved to Portland and am getting a tattoo straightaway. How cliché is that? 😉 Just a little bitty dot, though, I’m told.

Right now, I’m still recovering from the surgery (am mostly better) and look forward to being able to do some adventuring with my kids. I’ve been setting up my little studio, which I already love like an old friend. I’ve read nothing but comfort books since the diagnosis—The Railway Children, The Uncommon Reader, lots of Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey.

studio 1

I can’t believe I have a studio

studio 2

And with such light!

To sum up:

1. It all still feels a bit surreal. Cancer! Portland!
2. I am astoundingly fortunate in my friends, here, there, and everywhere.
3. I am overwhelmingly glad I didn’t cancel that mammogram.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake feels like an apt metaphor for our past six weeks

So, um, how has your summer been so far?

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35 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    I have been thinking about you lots these past weeks. I am so glad things have worked out well. Wishing you many, many, many warm blessings for your new home and all the joyous years ahead.

  2. Penny says:

    You’re in my heart and thoughts, Lissa.

    A book recommendation (like you need one, but, anyway…) Masie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.

    PS: I’m without cell service for a couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking of you, ok?

  3. Constance says:

    A very stressful time! Glad you are well and impressed you are unpacked and organized! I hope Portland is a great home for your family.

  4. KackyK says:

    Been praying praying for your healing…so glad things are going as smoothly as it seems possible. This post definitely makes my (now I see 😉 slow planning for the upcoming year even more lazy. Ha! I need to live more for sure! Hugs to you!!!!!

  5. ANNE MARIE PACE says:

    Hey beautiful. I LOVE YOU.

  6. Gail Gauthier says:

    You’ve had a much rougher summer than I have, but I’ve complained much more. Attitude is huge in getting through tough times, and you’ve got a great one. Quite honestly, we couldn’t have even managed the move.

    For what it’s worth, my mother-in-law had radiation for breast cancer, maybe 20 years ago. Her biggest complaint at the time was that she had to go into the city for treatment. And there’s been no sign of cancer since then. Hope things go as well for you.

  7. Marty Franklin says:

    Lissa, we are praying for complete healing for you. Missing you here. But, the great Northwest is definately beautiful place to be. Have you tried Holly yet?

  8. Barbara I. Carter says:

    This note is from your new facebook friend. Up head is spinning as I read your recounting of your life story of the last few months. I never miss my mammograms and so far so good for me. Cancer is the most terrifying word in the English language and glad yours is under control and I wish you all the best with all your activities and much happiness in your new home. BTW, The Uncommon Reader is one of my favorites and I heartily recommend the Jackie Winspear, Maisie Dobbs books. You will love them I think.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery,

  9. Laura Weldon says:

    Good to see that big smile of yours. Peace and light to you.

    And btw, I’m years behind on getting a mammogram. You’ve inspired me to make that appointment.

  10. Sarah says:

    Wow. What a lot to go through all at once. I’m thinking of you during your recovery and relocation!

  11. Mary Lee Hahn says:

    SO glad you didn’t cancel that mammogram. They caught mine on the first mammogram…almost 20 years ago. Hugs. High fives. Huge sighs of relief.

  12. Lenetta says:

    I’ve been quietly reading since Wonderboy was tiny. Thank you for updating on your latest adventures, looking forward to your new chapters!

  13. Lisa says:

    Thanks for the update! Stay as strong as possible! I’m praying for you as are many others. What a glorious chain of things came together to get you the treatment you needed RIGHT AWAY. I had to laugh– I’ve read since you began blogging, remember the other move. But I know your kids by their “blog names”. Hope Steve does well. Keep the ever-marvelous Uncommon Reader nearby. Finally, how cool and encouraging that you are a role model for my new side-gig of Grant writing? Big Hug to you!

  14. tee+d says:

    ♥♥♥ That studio!! I’ll have to take a pic of my new office – not quite as unpacked yet as you, but getting there.

    Blessings on your new nest.

  15. Penelope says:

    Look at that beautiful studio! What a gift, no?! Along with library cards and the kids settling in and a new wee yarden to explore 🙂

    So much love to you, and prayers for you all. So very grateful you didn’t cancel. A good reminder for us all.

    Perhaps a wee blue rose tattoo to go with the small dot?

  16. stef says:

    wow. so much!!! so glad to hear things went well with the move and the surgery. i had no idea! :O will keep you and your family in prayer, lissa. take care and God bless.<3

  17. Meredith says:

    Oh, Lissa, what a journey. You will have my prayers every step of the way.
    We have had a similarly earth-shaking summer, good and bad all mixed up together. My watchwords have been “The only way out is through…”

  18. Rachel says:

    I’m not a writer, the words… I don’t know. But I’ve been worried since your cryptic comments on Twitter, and reading this, I cried, I prayed, I rejoice that the prognosis is good. May you live to be a Tasha Tudor grandma to your grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

  19. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater says:

    I have been holding you in my heart. You are so brave and strong and full of love and art. Much love to you in your new home…and your new bright studio. New beginnings and new chances to live and love again. Sending you poetry and light, my friend. xxoo

  20. Jackie Reeve says:

    So, so, so glad you went to that appointment. I have my annual on Tuesday morning, and I’d been putting it off since Nov. 15th. Missed spots, never rescheduled, couldn’t get an appt that fit my schedule. I had to schedule this one 6 months ago, and I almost thought about canceling it. Lemmetellya, I will be making tests and annuals more of a priority now. I love the studio!!!

  21. Selvi says:

    Gosh! I hope you recover well and settle into life in Portland. I will say a prayer for you. Best wishes to all the family.

  22. Nancy says:

    Oy, that’s some kind of high tide. I so admire your strength and smile. I’m wishing you many, many long pauses and spaces to breathe. Plus lots of good chocolate (I’m pretty sure artisanal chocolate flows from the fountains in Portland, right?). It’s so nice that at the end of each day you have Scott and the kids and that lovely new studio. Sending a gazillion good wishes and much love. –Nancy

  23. Jen Robinson says:

    I think we’re all glad that you didn’t cancel that mammogram, Lissa. Wishing you so much health and happiness in your new home!

  24. Anne says:

    Oh my goodness!!! I’m so glad the news has been good since the diagnosis!! You just added a whole bunch of perspective to my own move this late summer. God bless you as you settle in to make that cute new house your home.

  25. Jess says:

    I have followed your blog and your children’s literature for years, yet I have never commented. I just wanted to say that my whole family (littles who all know your work) and I will be praying for you in the coming months and commending you to Our Lady. You have blessed us tremendously through your work, your creativity and your openness. We hope to pay back the favor!

  26. Kortney Garrison says:

    I was *just*thinking about re-reading Uncommon Reader. Thanks for the nudge. And I love that this sweet piece is filed under Family Adventures. That’s putting it mildly!

  27. Melissa says:

    You have handled all of this [*gestures widely and with feeling*] with such grace, Melissa. You AMAZE me! And my family can tell you how often I’ve mentioned just how much you amaze me. Wishing you health and happiness in your new home.

    With love to you and your family —


    Postscript: Know that your mammogram reminder fell on a receptive ear: I had an odd result in the fall and was called back for additional imaging. Because that was “normal,” I put the six-month recall on the bottom of the to-do list. It moved up at your generous-spirited urging. Thank you. You’re a treasure to your family, to your friends, and to your readers.

  28. Debora Missoorten says:

    A beautiful written ‘real life’ story , amazing how you went through this stormy period. Your working space looks wonderful so much daylight and so neat it will give you a lot of beautiful moments I am sure.
    Enjoy your exploring of your new neighbourhood with your family , much love and hughs.

  29. Erica Sanchez says:

    How has my summer been?

    Well, my dear friend (and kids’ most amazing teacher of Shakespeare, Poetry, Literature, and Journey North) got cancer and moved far, far away from me/us. I miss her and I’m worried for her and I’m not there to help her.

    Other than that, not too bad. 🙂

    P.S. That studio space is dreamy! And so organized and beautiful! Love it!

  30. Shauna says:

    I held my breath while reading that. So glad they caught it early! I was diagnosed with early stage BC 5 years ago. I elected to have a mastectomy and was able to avoid radiation and chemo. Praying for an easy time with radiation for you, and a complete and full recovery!!

  31. Angela says:

    Long time follower and IG commenter:) Just wanting to tell you I love you and am rooting for you. You are one amazing woman.

  32. Jennifer says:

    Wow! What a whirlwind. Praying for a speedy recovery and strength for the radiation, and for many wonderful adventures in your new home.

  33. maria says:

    Massive amounts of hugs, care, prayers, and love to you and yours!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    All the best to you all on your Oregon adventure!

  34. Carlie says:

    Whoa. I’m stunned. What a shocking turn of events in your life. So glad that you are surrounded by people and that you have had all your needs laid open before you so neatly. Praying for a clean recovery.

  35. Ginger says:

    It is story’s told that help others. I appreciate your candor, and your will to live well, involved in your complete life. You had such courage to pursue what your plans were, even though most would have cancelled moving forward and stayed put. You took the road less traveled and I am sure it will make all the difference. You look radiant.
    I hope the Lord blesses you and keeps you and causes his face to shine upon you.