Woman shares cancer battle in ‘Foremost Good Fortune’

Raising a small family is stressful in the best of times. But imagine how difficult it would be moving your two small children to an entirely different continent such as the austere and somewhat forbidding country of China.

In her book, “The Foremost Good Fortune,” Susan Conley recounts the ups and downs of bringing her young family to China right before the 2008 Olympics.

Susan agrees to relocate to Beijing for two years as her husband, Tony, introduces credit-rating systems to state-run banks. He’s so excited to travel back to the country he’d backpacked through in the mid-’80s. He knows both the language and the traditions of the country intimately.

Susan doesn’t, and she’s the one left in charge of the minutiae of their daily lives — caring for their young sons (ages 4 and 6 at the time), shopping (including locating the popular family favorite, but $10-a-box Honey Nut Cheerios and navigating Beijing’s IKEA store), managing the household (hiring a competent maid or ayi who can cook and clean), and navigating the complicated rituals required to make new friends. But she does it, because it’s important to her husband and to her family.

Just as she’s beginning to get a handle on things, Susan discovers two lumps in her left breast.
Beijing is not the place to be when you have a cancer concern, as Susan quickly learned when the Chinese doctor, theoretically one of the top in his field, recommends that she wait three months before taking any action.

Wisely, Susan consults her stateside doctor who urges her to act immediately and insists on having a lumpectomy done. The results show there to be cancer, and it’s clear she needs to return to the U.S. for top-notch care, thus having to uproot her family once again as they travel back and forth during her treatments. (She is cancer-free at this time.)

In this fast-moving, fascinating memoir, Susan Conley provides a remarkable firsthand look at life in a vastly different culture, a unique experience that was unfortunately colored by the stress and fear of fighting cancer. She deserves kudos for sheer bravery as she fought against homesickness and loneliness while turning what could have been a complete disaster for her family into a hopefully memorable time for them all.

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