Student battling second cancer bout earns MA... and beats disease

Ross Lydall

A student earned a distinction in her masters degree while beating cancer for the second time.

Michelle Fredman, 26, will graduate in international journalism at City university tomorrow after using the experience of fighting the disease to inspire her studies.

“I refused to let the cancer define me,” she said. “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.”

Ms Fredman was born in South Africa and grew up in London until she was 10. In December 2015, when she was 22 and studying for an undergraduate degree in Cape Town, she was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin lymphoma.

The aggressive blood cancer, which affects the immune system and the ability of the body to fight disease, is rare but more commonly found in young people.

She went into remission in August 2016 but the cancer returned in October 2018, a month after she arrived at City. She knew it had come back when she began to lose weight, constantly felt tired and struggled with her breathing.

Michelle Fredman

“The second time felt worse,” she said. “I was more scared than before. I should have been feeling invincible at this stage of my life, but instead I was terrified. I thought: If I have cancer, I may as well make it useful for something.

“I wrote my dissertation on going through cancer in your twenties — how cancer can affect you sexually, about hair loss and femininity, and survivors who motivated me.

“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. When the treatment had finished, I would usually be heading to the library or lectures ... or out to Shoreditch.”

Ms Fredman’s own stem cells were too damaged from her previous treatment to be “rebooted” by immunotherapy, meaning a donor had to be found.

She was cured by a stem cell transplant from her older sister, Nicole, who flew from Australia to London last summer. She also had to contend with the death of her mother from dementia in May 2018. She wrote a cancer column and blogged about her experiences.

“I want to stay in London and become a journalist,” Ms Fredman said. “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.”

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