Embarking on a New Chapter While Cherishing the Value of Community

Embarking on a New Chapter While Cherishing the Value of Community
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It’s surreal to ponder that our world has been living through a pandemic for a year now. That we’ve endured this strange sense of separation from one another for so long. No matter what your individual experience of the virus may be, there’s no doubt that forced distancing from other people has affected you in a significant way.

For me, it’s revealed just how valuable community truly is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately. How much we gain from interaction, from feeling a sense of unity and belonging with others.

During the initial outbreak last year, just a few months after my stem cell transplant when I was deemed highly vulnerable, I was forced into a strict period of isolation that compelled me to ruminate on my discomfort with being truly alone. It exacerbated on a profound level how much I rely on others to fully function. It made me aware of how much value and energy we all gain from our exchanges, our daily conversations, small acts of kindness, sporting events, dinner parties, and warm hugs. Suddenly, estranged from my friends and family, I found my mental health severely compromised.

Although my time in isolation was beneficial in terms of healing after the severe trauma of my second cancer diagnosis, it also forced me to admit out loud that I wasn’t living the life I truly wanted. I wasn’t following the things that really made me happy. What I was lacking, above everything, was a supportive community to call myself a part of.

When I was ill, despite the immense challenges I faced at the time, I distinctly remember feeling a deep sense of belonging with others in the cancer community. Social media enabled me to connect with a wider network of cancer survivors and victims, many of whom I am still in contact with today. Doors opened up, and I felt connected and held by both friends and strangers alike.

During my recovery, this sense of community slowly dissipated. As I distanced myself from my identity as a cancer patient, and with the added physical distance forced upon us all by COVID-19, I felt ostracized from the familiar comforts gained only by the love of a community.

This discomfort and dissatisfaction with my everyday reality, plus the added discontent with my job, created a situation in which I felt I had no other choice but to radically change my life.

Sometimes this is the beauty in discomfort. It forces us to see what we need to change, and by making these changes we move closer to becoming the person we always were meant to be.

Long story short, I packed up my life in London, quit my corporate job, and moved home to my native South Africa, where I proceeded to open up a coffee shop with my boyfriend of 10 months.

Yes, we opened a business during a pandemic. Call me crazy (and I wouldn’t disagree), but in longing for that sense of community, I felt driven to pursue a job that had meaning and purpose behind it. So I trusted my gut and took the plunge.

And if cancer has taught me anything, it’s that sometimes we simply have to take a risk and dive off a cliff. Because if not now, then when?

Sonder Café
Sonder Café. (Courtesy of Michelle Fredman)

And so our little café was born. And slowly, in just a few short weeks since its inception, it has blossomed into a space of togetherness and community. Which is why we named it Sonder Café, in honor of one of my favorite words.

Sonder, n. — the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

I wanted, above everything, to create a space where people feel at home, where connections are born, where community exists.

Since moving home and starting this new chapter, I feel whole again, as if a missing piece of my soul has returned. Perhaps it is because I feel like I am finally living my truth. That despite the global calamity and separation we continue to endure, this small space we’ve created is bringing some joy back to our little corner of the world and making people feel held, loved, and supported.

And that’s everything I could have hoped to achieve in this life.

(Courtesy of Michelle Fredman)

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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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.

Michelle is a writer, teacher, and self-proclaimed travel addict hailing from Cape Town, South Africa. In December 2015, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — she then relapsed in October 2018. Enduring cancer at a young age was both an eye-opening and life-changing experience which in time became the catalyst to start writing and sharing her journey with the world, in the hope of helping others facing similar challenges. Her favorite pastimes include reading books, practicing yoga, being in the ocean, exploring the world, and documenting the myriad beauties of everyday life. 
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Michelle is a writer, teacher, and self-proclaimed travel addict hailing from Cape Town, South Africa. In December 2015, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — she then relapsed in October 2018. Enduring cancer at a young age was both an eye-opening and life-changing experience which in time became the catalyst to start writing and sharing her journey with the world, in the hope of helping others facing similar challenges. Her favorite pastimes include reading books, practicing yoga, being in the ocean, exploring the world, and documenting the myriad beauties of everyday life. 

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