It’s late on a cold April night in Portland, Maine, and I lie on the couch staring hard at a glossy pullout map of Beijing. My two boys are asleep upstairs in their beds, and my husband has just landed in China to buy swivel chairs for his new office there. I want this map to offer a clue of what a life in Beijing would look like. But the more I gaze at street names, the more distant they feel: would we live on a road called Yongdingmen Xibinhe? Or Changchunqiao?
No one has to explain to me that the journey will be about confronting unknowns: the nuanced language, and a history so rich that Marco Polo and Genghis Khan both sharpened their teeth there. But also the unknown of the person I’ve most recently become—a mother still unsure of her new job description. A nap czar and food commandant.
China and cancer are both big countries, so there’s a lot to say about each. But let me start back at the beginning.