Tamron Little, who was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma at just 21 years old, recalls her experience with the disease and how she never let it stop her from living each day with love.
If you scroll through Tamron Little’s Instagram, you would never know that when she was just 21 years old with a baby on the way, she was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer that is considered an “old man’s disease.”
Fourteen years later, Little is now an influencer in the cancer and mesothelioma world, with more than 14,000 followers on Instagram. She recently launched her new podcast, “Talks With Tamron,” which dives into topics such as marriage, mental health, mom life and wifehood. Little is also a contributing writer for asbestos.com and The Mesothelioma Center, writing about her experience to help other survivors.
“I was not your typical college student,” says Little. “I had just found out that I was pregnant and to be honest, I was kind of down about it because I felt like I wouldn’t be able to finish school, but I still pressed my way through and attended classes until I couldn’t,” says Little, who attended the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
When Little was about four months along, she began having symptoms, which were a mixture of both pregnancy and mesothelioma symptoms. Her pregnancy masked most of the mesothelioma symptoms, but she remembers feeling constipated with no energy and experiencing stomach pains. Little ran back and forth to the emergency room wondering if something was wrong.
Little had a scheduled ultrasound to find out the sex of her baby. During the appointment, Little sensed something was off by the doctor’s silence.
“Not to alarm you, but I saw something,” the doctor said after telling Little she was having a baby boy.
Little was sent to another center to look more into what her doctor thought was just a fibroid tumor. This center also said it was a fibroid tumor and told her why her hemoglobin was so low. After giving birth to her son, Little was given birth control to try and shrink the fibroid tumor, but a few months later, she learned that the tumor did not shrink—it had actually grown to the size of a tennis ball and was in her abdomen.
“That’s when [the doctor] told me I had peritoneal mesothelioma,” Little says. She didn’t know what mesothelioma was at the time. Peritoneal mesothelioma is a cancer caused by ingested asbestos fibers that develops in the peritoneum, which lines the abdomen.
“The whole room stood still, and I was just staring at him. This big, tall man in his lab coat with blue scrubs on,” Little says of the moment she found out. “I looked around the room at my mom, aunt and husband. The expression on my mom’s face was just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
Shortly after her diagnosis, her mother’s coworkers told her about Dr. Edward Levine, who worked at the same hospital as her mother. Her coworkers consulted him, along with her mother, and asked if Levine would take Little’s case of peritoneal mesothelioma—and he did.
At the time, Levine was the only doctor specializing in peritoneal mesothelioma and the only one on the East Coast that had successfully performed a heated or hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) surgery and he was right under Little’s nose. “I always say that it was a God intervention, like God placed me in the right place at the right time,” she says.
Levine and his team gave Little and her family information about the HIPEC surgery, which focused on removing the mesothelioma from the abdominal cavity. Little immediately said yes, she wanted to do it. She was ready to be cancer-free. The surgery took about 10 hours.
Little credits her husband—then boyfriend at the time—and her family as her biggest support system. When her husband was at work, Little’s aunts, mother and grandmother would come and help her out.
She remarks that a support system is vital to get through cancer. “Who would just wake up in the morning and think that you have cancer? I never saw it coming,” she says.
Little also knows she had her son for a reason. It was the ultrasound that showed her cancer early on enough to beat it. “God made it so that Caleb saved my life,” she says.
She now has three other children in addition to Caleb, who she calls her miracle babies. After her surgery, she was told to be grateful for one child because she wouldn’t be able to have any more children.
“I am grateful to God. I am living my best life, I’m really thriving,”says Little, who is not on any medication currently and has stable hemoglobin. “Everything happens for a reason, and God makes sure that he strategically aligns everything up in your life.”
Little has created an environment through social media where she inspires and empowers both cancer patients and women. She uses her journey as a platform to inspire others to live each day like it’s a gift, which is a message that continues in her new podcast.
“Remember that no matter where life takes you, everything happens for a reason,” says Little. “Every day that you wake up, you have the ability and the authority to command your day. Whatever we go through during that day—it’s our choice of how we’re going to react to it.”