“I never wanted to use it as an excuse – I would even wear a chemotherapy backpack before going to CityBar!” Meet the Masters’ graduate who beat Cancer twice on her journey to graduation.

Published (Updated )

Michelle Fredman (MA International Journalism 2020)

When Michelle Fredman excitedly arrived in London to study at City, the last thing she expected was for her cancer to relapse.
The aspiring reporter who fell in love with writing while travelling South America had already been diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 23 while on her Undergraduate degree.

Now aged 26 and graduating with a distinction in International Journalism, the inspiring survivor reflects on her five-year journey.

Michelle said: “I tried to lie to myself, but I knew my cancer was back. I kept losing weight, I felt tired all the time like before and I struggled with breathing.

“The second time felt worse, I was more scared than before. I thought I had defeated the disease and had just started a Masters in London after living in the Amazon Rainforest – I should have been feeling invincible at this stage of my life, but instead I was terrified.”

Despite feeling her worst, Michelle focused everything into her studies. Using the cancer to inspire her course work and dissertation.

I refused to let the cancer define me. I refused to let it affect my life at university. I had worked too hard to let it control me. I used my Masters as my motivation, as a reason to fight my way out of bed in the morning.

– Michelle Fredman (MA International Journalism 2020)
Michelle Fredman (MA International Journalism 2020) at graduation.
Michelle Fredman (MA International Journalism 2020) at graduation. Lizzie Starling

“I thought if I have cancer, I may as well make it useful for something. So, I wrote my dissertation on going through cancer in your 20s. I wrote so much, like how cancer can affect you sexually, hair loss and femininity and even about other cancer fighters and survivors who motivated me.

“My classmates were shocked when they found out I had cancer – it was pretty obvious from my haircut, but no one expected it to be in a 25-year-old girl.

“I wanted to be as normal as possible. At the hotel I would wear a backpack with tubes going into my arm pumping chemotherapy throughout my body. I wore it for 24 hours a day every five days, before a two-week break. When the treatment had finished, I would usually be heading to the library or lectures – there were some occasions where I went straight from the hotel to CityBar and out to Shoreditch!”

Michelle Fredman post stem cell transplant
Michelle Fredman post stem cell transplant

During Michelle’s second recovery from cancer, her mother sadly passed away after suffering a long-term spell of dementia.

“When the news came through that my mother had passed away after suffering from dementia I was broken.

“I didn’t just feel distraught, I felt angry. I felt how could this all be happening? First, I experience one of the most uncommon forms of cancer not only once but twice, now my mother passes away and I am only 25. I felt like it couldn’t be real.

“I struggled to remain upbeat about my cancer during this time, but I had to keep going. I was told I needed a stem cell transplant; however, they could not use my own cells due to the amount of treatment I had in the past.

“I was told I needed a donor and that person was none other than my sister.”

Michelle Fredman (MA International Journalism 2020) and her sister, Nicole.
Michelle Fredman (MA International Journalism 2020) and her sister, Nicole.

There is only a one in four percent chance of a sibling being a perfect match for a stem cell transplant, according to Cancer Research UK. Michelle’s older sister, Nicole, who was living in Australia was that match where she flew to London to save her sisters’ life.

With her sister’s blood cells pumping through her body, Michelle felt reborn.

“This whole experience has changed my entire outlook on life. Young people have so much pressure on them to succeed and make something out of their lives, but I am just so happy to be alive!

“I want to stay in London and become a journalist. The media can be so negative and difficult to read, so I want to be an optimistic voice, covering stories that have positive influences.

It feels amazing to be graduating, I really did not want to drop out from City, but at times I honestly didn’t think I would make it here. I have survived cancer twice, I have also survived a Masters! The past five years of my life feels like the end of one journey and the start of another.

– Michelle Fredman (MA International Journalism 2020)

Read Michelle's extended story on the City Scoop.

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