Healthy Living

Reclaiming the ‘C’ Word

Before being diagnosed with cancer, Fredman lived a life free from worry that something bad could ever happen to her. However, it wasn’t until she was pushed to her farthest limit that she realized the fragility of life.

Reclaiming the ‘C’ Word

Michelle Raphaella Fredman is a 25-year-old columnist, teacher and self-proclaimed travel addict coming from Cape Town, South Africa. She is also a cancer survivor.

Fredman was born to Canadian mother and a South African father. She grew up in London, butat the age of 10, her family moved to Cape Town. After finishing high school, Fredman traveled to South America with her then-boyfriend. For a year and a half, they ventured from Argentina to Costa Rica, working in hostels along the way. At the age of 21, she returned to South Africa and started her undergraduate degree in English literature and media at the University of Cape Town.

In early December of 2015, during her final year at the University, Fredman was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Luckily, doctors found the cancer at a relatively early stage (stage 2) and she was fortunate enough to be able to afford quality treatment and care. She underwent 12 rounds of chemo and still managed to graduate.

The following year, Fredman left Cape Town and spent two months in Peru, followed by two months in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where she found herself volunteering with an indigenous community. Although her life has been filled with adventure, Fredman says that the biggest adventure and challenge of her life has been going through cancer at such a young age. “Losing what felt like my entire identity and being reborn changed me. I feel I am a more open, alive, and grateful. Although sometimes I get caught up in the stresses of everyday life, I’m usually able to step outside of myself and see the bigger picture. Perspective is the greatest gift” she wrote.

The eye-opening and life-changing experience led her to start a column - “Life After Lymphoma: A Young Warrior’s Guide to Recovery” – where she shares her journey with the world, in hopes of helping others facing similar obstacles.

Living fully in the moment instead of the fear of tomorrow

Before being diagnosed with cancer, Fredman lived a life free from worry that something bad could ever happen to her. However, it wasn’t until she was pushed to her farthest limit that she finally realized the fragility of life. “I never saw the intensity of the beauty all around me because I was so focused on what was wrong. I was never skinny enough, I was never good enough, I was never smart enough, I was never enough. Me, Me, Me. My ego had full control of my thoughts. Nothing was ever enough…until it all almost got taken away from me. I received the biggest awakening in the form of this disease and now nothing can ever be the same” she wrote.

So now, Fredman chooses to share her story in hopes that others may come to realize what she is starting to see. That there is no ‘do over’ in life. That there is no need to be afraid to feel and to express real emotions. That there is no need to shy away from the world. “We have to stop fearing and start loving. We have to start loving ourselves, flaws and all. Because, to have scars means to have lived a life of adventure. To have curves means your ancestors were strong, powerful, beings who walked this earth with bare toes and broad bellies. To feel broken inside means you have lived, it means you have tried for something real. To be vulnerable is to be alive” she wrote.

In moving forward, Fredman reminds herself that fear is experienced by every individual and not just cancer survivors. However, in her case, living with the fear of a relapse is inevitable. It is the reality of a cancer survivor and she stresses that it is OK to be afraid of an unknown future. “To curb these feelings, I try to remind myself how dull a safe and predictable future would be. Imagine if we all knew what exactly would happen tomorrow. There is so much beauty in
spontaneity. I try to see it that way, instead of dwelling in the fear” she wrote.

Pain and joy – two sides of the same coin

In her latest column, Fredman talks about reclaiming the “c” word.

Some individuals are able to talk openly and freely about cancer without feeling uncomfortable; however, they are a rare breed. Almost everyone knows someone who has had or who has been affected by cancer. So, what is it that makes this topic so painful to discuss?

According to Fredman, it could be its close relation to death. “Cancer’s cousin is death, and death isn’t something people want to bring up. And why would they? Why would people want to dwell on the fact that we’re only here for a relatively short time? That this life is temporary, and these bodies are impermanent and one day everyone you know will dissipate into the ether” she wrote. And while not wanting to dwell on a sensitive topic like cancer is understandable,

sometimes it is important to talk about it. It is important to talk about the experiences and the pain because that is what is real and life too, is real.

Fredman finds herself often bringing up the topic of cancer in conversation with friends, as well as with strangers. While she does notice the initial reaction of uneasiness, she chooses to persist regardless. The desire to talk about it comes from her need to stop herself from forgetting what it was that she went through. She chooses to speak up because cancer defines her willpower and it helps her to encourage others not to feel frightened, ashamed or embarrassed in talking about it.
“Because you know what you’ve been through and how far you’ve come, the storms you’ve weathered and the battles you’ve braved, and those are stories worth remembering, worth being retold, again and again. It’s not about being a victim — it’s about healing; it’s about helping others by speaking your truth, and destroying the stigma around this disease” she wrote.