Returning West to Find East

When our family moved to China, I thought that “expatriation” would surely be the most challenging part of our family’s two-year round trip adventure.  Shanghai was a world away from P-town, and another planet entirely compared to Southeast Alaska, where the girls were born.

Fondly called "Kendudgy" in China, KFC is everywhere!

An insane skyline, incredibly frenetic but dynamic energy, more people than you can possibly imagine and an explosion of new sites, smells, sounds and feelings … these all combined for a very big jolt to our systems. I’ll never forget the first night when we landed, jet-lagged but blearily anticipatory from our flight. Deposited at our newly leased high-rise loft apartment, I wanly endeavored to make beds up while I sent Dan out to find some food for the famished kids. He bravely left the apartment only to find himself in the maze of an old Shanghai neighborhood (took a right when he should have gone left!). With a crazy look on his face, he returned to my surprise with only a tiny Kentucky Fried Chicken bag that held three mini wings at the most, and some strange thick orange beverage. Apparently the throngs and the language barrier had gotten the better of him. We made due with the wings, added leftover crackers from the plane, and called it a night.

Rockstar Team. Miss them!

We found our way forward, of course, and encountered epic personal and professional experiences that changed us profoundly. So much of what I learned in China went much deeper then just a little career jaunt or cultural exchange. I easily took in more from the people and teammates in Shanghai than they did from me. Things like Loyalty. Commitment. Determination. And Camaraderie.

Wagas delivery to my rescue!

And the learning continued when we returned. What I found when I came back to the U.S. last September was that “repatriation” was much more difficult. I was immediately shocked at how isolating we are in America as a culture. To my eyes, everyone seemed to have their head down, on solo pilot, on a mission to complete their own tasks. I remember when I was in China how sorry the local team felt for me because I ate lunch at my desk. I liked to shut my door with my expat-friendly delivered meal and enjoy a half hour without humidity or cold and catch up on emails. The members of my Shanghai team would never do such a thing. Lunch is a sacred time to leave the office, take a full hour break with friends, and most importantly share dishes and stories. Coming back to the U.S. I could see more clearly how different we “Westerners” are in our approach to work and life.

I took all of my wonderful team back to my office in Portland. They each painted each other's likeness on figurines. Love.

Another marked difference in cultures is the frank way that people in China might address you. At first I was shocked when people who barely knew me would stare at me intently and say “you look tired.” (And I probably did.  I usually was in those days of Beijing Olympic fever.) At first glance this might seem to run counter to the collaborative spirit that I mention. But, it took me awhile to realize that what they were saying was not “Girl, you look like hell” but “I care about you.” In fact, when my run-down self would invariably get sick, someone on my team would often offer me Chinese medicine, saying “It’s good for the body.” I’d thank them and politely decline, and then run to the Ritz Carlton next door for some overpriced, over-packaged and imported pharmaceutical.

Today, I am running the opposite direction and happily embracing a whole host of traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture is my most healing time of the week. Yoga is my strengthening safe haven. Shiatsu massage brings me peace and release. And regular doses of Chinese herbs cool the chemo heat from my body and keep my immune system sound.

Some of the fun, symbolic gifts sent from Shanghai. And an image from the video below.

Meanwhile my team at Nike and WK in China are checking regularly on me to be sure I’m doing what’s “good for the body” and have surprised me regularly with wonderful care packages of love and hope from across the world.

a great clip of a video that Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai sent to me recently...

Getting treated in Western medicine is a little bit like having lunch at your desk with the door closed. Each doctor is on their mission to treat the “part” they are responsible for. When I first got diagnosed with cancer, I faced many teams of different specialists at different times, each paraded in front of me for their specific POV. Right now my chemo doc is in charge of shrinking the mass. Next up will be two different surgeons and a radiologist, each with their own deconstructive and reconstructive jobs to do, head down at their own “desks.”

My Eastern caretakers approach their mission much more like a Chinese lunch. They listen to me and they listen to my body, literally hearing my pulse to know where imbalances are manifested that week. As they place their restorative hands on me, I have also learned from them to listen to my own body in a way I didn’t know was possible. These gentle but powerful healers approach the whole body instead of an assigned piece and carefully monitor how and where my life-force, my qi, is flowing (or not). They are remarkably successful in bringing me restored balance, strength and relief in their tailored treatments. And I’m convinced this cocktail of alternative therapies has also helped in the cancer regression (looking good my friends!)

The Western side of my medicine cabinet...

...and the Eastern side.

While vastly different, I believe both the Western and Eastern approaches to my treatment are critical to my recovery. Believe me, I still eat at my desk…. I am in awe of the scientists and doctors who have created so many breakthroughs in chemotherapy. It works. But, the power of the collective is also something to be reckoned with. I feel so fortunate that I had the opportunity to open my eyes to a different and complementary path to becoming well and then staying whole and healthy for the rest of my life.

Sometimes you have to come home to see something new.


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  1. Cassy
    Posted December 3, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Kudos to you my fine feathered friend, I had no doubt that you would come through with flying colors!!! Your strength is an asset to the women who ‘wear pink’!!!!! Hugs from Steve and Cassy

  2. Kristi Jo
    Posted July 2, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    love you!

  3. Mindy
    Posted June 30, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Just got caught up on your postings and I just love your written words! Had a wonderful week in Hawaii with your family–thank you for sharing them with us! The girls have changed in so many ways. They both made me smile so often on our relaxing week. Hadley is the spitting image of you. Emma is going to look a lot like Brittany!
    Much love to you. Thinking of you.

  4. Tina
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    oh, I was the one of “”you look tired”!

  5. Nancy Olson
    Posted June 29, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Hi Dear Ker, So much understand the integrating of east meets west on the medicine front. For many years I have benefitted from acupuncture and getting the chi flowing. I am so glad that I will be joining you for the last of your hillclimbs for chemo..this next week. Know that I(and all your fam and friends) are with you through all the steps. You are an inspiration to us all. Just returned from the dear ole SE Alaska for a week. Ate lots of that omega 3 ladden rich fish and hope to be getting a supply for you soon. All the good people up north send their greetings and best to you,too. See you soon and hugs and wiggles to the kiddos. Love, YOM(om)

  6. Anna
    Posted June 27, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    3 chicken wings and orange sludge. Hilarious. Your team sounds like such a wonderful group. How fortunate you are to have met such loving people whose ways are so important to your healing.

    So great to hug you, Paul loved meeting you. XOXO

  7. YOM
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    One more to go, eh? It’ll be a good thang when the poison stops and you can move on to the next steps. Janet went at this backwards from what you’re doing (surgery followed by chemicals and rads) and she says the surgery was no big. As I recall, we were at a chinatown restaurant the next morning. Eastern medicine has it’s place for sure, but yes – there’s some really interesting drugs that make concerns ( and conciousness) disappear. The trick is not to get too attached. Peace on ya. Hi to them girls.

  8. Nicolas
    Posted June 25, 2010 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    And after reading that I just want to jump on a plane and take you out to lunch – oh wait, I will be next week so I hope you have time. Thursday or Friday – I’ll still try to convince you you need to get out of that humid office.

  9. Coco
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Sofa! – an typical expression in China for people who can leave the first comment.
    As one of the many who said ‘you look tired’ to you in face, I was amazed by how much you embraces the oriental culture and that’s why we all love you so much! XOXO! Now, I would say – ‘you look great, Kerri!’

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