It was Monday morning. The sun was shining and life was good. It was the start of what I’d assumed was going to be my best summer yet. I was expecting to get the results of my biopsy back that day. I’d had problems with a cough for about two months. “A simple bout of bronchitis,” my doctor had called it. She’d given me antibiotics and told me to rest. However, she couldn’t explain my swollen glands or profuse night sweats. When I went back complaining that I was still sweating profusely every night, she sent me for X-rays. That’s when the nurse asked me how long I’d had these lumps in my neck. I’m sorry, what lumps, now?
I was always brushing things off. It was in my nature. I had a little cold, so what? Never once did I imagine this could be something serious. The following day, a specialist sat me down and explained that the lymph nodes in my neck were abnormally swollen. In the worst-case scenario, it was lymphoma or tuberculosis, or it was just a small viral infection. Still, the tears rolled down my cheeks. Just the thought that I could possibly have cancer was crazy. I didn’t get sick. I bounced back from anything. Not me. Not now. Not this young. Everything was fine.
Still, they had to make sure, so I was booked for a biopsy. This is when they force you into a hospital gown, have an anesthetist stick a needle into your arm and put you to sleep. I woke up 40 minutes later in a whole lot of pain, with two lymph nodes missing. That’s when the nurse injected me with something called Panadeine (paracetamol and codeine), which made my entire body feel nice and tingly. I invited all the nurses over for milkshakes. Still, everything was OK. My holiday was back on track. Well, it was — until two days later, on that sunny Monday morning when my phone rang. It was my dad.
”Come home. The results of the biopsy are back. It’s serious.”
My head racing with fear, I pulled into the driveway and bounded up the stairs and into my father’s study where the tears began to fall even before I’d heard the words. Did I already know that my entire world was about to change, forever?
“What is it?”
Nothing in life can ever prepare you to hear those three words: “You have cancer.”
My name is Michelle Raphaella Fredman, and I’m a cancer survivor. I come from a Canadian mother and a South African father, but grew up in London. When I was 10, my family moved to Cape Town. After finishing high school and saving up some money, I ventured to South America with my boyfriend at the time. Together, we traveled from Argentina to Costa Rica for a year and a half, hitchhiking along the Pan-American Highway and working in hostels along the way. When I was 21, I returned to South Africa and started my undergraduate degree in English literature and media at the University of Cape Town. It was around January of my final year that doctors diagnosed me with stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I did 12 rounds of chemo, shaved off my hair, and somehow still managed to graduate that December.
The next year, I left Cape Town, desiring to return to the continent where I’d once felt the freest. Fresh off the chemo train, I was sporting an awkward pixie cut and a radically altered perspective. I spent two months alone in Peru, recovering from what had been, to say the least, a pretty overwhelming year. I longed for experience and a deeper shift in perspective. That’s how I found myself in the Ecuadorian Amazon, volunteering with an indigenous community. It was there that I ended up falling in love with a local guide and living with him and his community for two months. After leaving the Amazon, I applied for jobs in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, and soon after began working as a high school English teacher. Which just about leads us to today.
Although my life story thus far has been pretty radical, the truth is that the biggest adventure and challenge of my life has been surviving cancer. 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.
I wanted to write this column as a way to share some of this perspective with you. To write about life after lymphoma and how the road to recovery is a bumpy, tumultuous, wild ride full of awkward hairstyles, weird side effects, fear, appreciation, and courage.
I hope you find something in here you can connect with, whoever you are!
Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.
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