Sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb
When 21-year-old Tamron Little learned he had malignant peritoneal mesothelioma, a rare cancer more common in older white men, he was shocked. Little was misdiagnosed several months ago with a non-cancerous fibroid tumor that is common in young black women and runs in her family. Now, Mr. Little had heard that she had 18 months to live.
The news comes on the heels of another major life event. Little gave birth to her first child, a healthy baby boy named Caleb, five weeks ago.
She had a lot of questions. Will she see her son turn 2? Are there other peritoneal mesothelioma patients like her, and how should she have felt? Where can she turn for help?
Despite having a strong support system, Little quickly felt the pressure to take care of everyone but herself (known as the “superwoman complex”) that many black women face. You will end up succumbing to it.
“When you’re told you have cancer, the road is dark. You feel shocked and alone,” Little said. “It wasn’t until a few years later that I found my community.”
Today, Little is a cancer survivor of over 15 years and has four beautiful children. She is speaking for the first time about her commitment to helping others, especially Black women, overcome cancer.
That’s why she, along with several other Black women, recently shared their story as part of a Bristol-Myers Squibb article. survivor ship todayis an initiative aimed at advancing our collective understanding of what it is like to live with cancer today.
Promoting conversations about mental health
Throughout Little’s journey, she found health care providers who helped her prepare for the physical challenges of cancer, but she never expected she would overcome the mental health challenges. did.
“I definitely felt prejudice from other people about how I looked, how I acted, and how I felt,” Little said. “So I dealt with this difficult time the best way I knew how.”
Ten years after starting her journey, Little has finally taken control of her mental health and continues to prioritize it.
“When you have cancer, it causes trauma to your body and mind. It took me a while to understand what I was going through, including my instinct to play superwoman and my ongoing anxiety. ,” Little said.
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deal with feelings of shame
Crystal Champion said when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2019, she, too, initially tried to become superwoman. Even though she is a physical therapist who specializes in cancer rehabilitation, she says she immediately felt overwhelming anxiety when asked about her journey as a cancer survivor. Therefore, she kept her own circle small and she only shared what she was experiencing with a few other people. Now, she wishes she had accepted more people sooner.
“As a healthcare professional who has mentored others through their cancer journey, I never expected to live this reality,” Champion said. “I’m a single black woman and I’m proud of my independence. It took me a while to accept support outside of my immediate family. Not seeking more support sooner has taken a toll on my mental health. were adversely affected.”
Tackling the superwoman complex
Eucharia Borden, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW, vice president of programs and health equity and oncology social worker at Family Reach, has spent 20 years identifying symptoms of the superwoman complex in Black women living with cancer. I’ve been watching it closely.
Throughout her career, Bowden has worked with many black women who have avoided sharing what they’re going through, even with their own families, because they don’t want to be a burden.
“The fear of being a burden is very harmful, because there are people in our lives who want to be there for us. But we accept them. We have to make that choice,” Borden said. “It’s my job to help them understand how disclosure can help alleviate their emotional distress and perhaps increase the support they receive.”
I’m going around
Now, Little, Champion and Bowden are advocating for Black female cancer survivors not to keep what they’re going through to themselves. They believe that when people open up about their personal experiences, it can positively impact cancer survivors’ journeys and help them make more meaningful connections.
Little, Champion, and Borden hope their story inspires other black women to shed the weight of the superwoman mantle and prioritize themselves.
To learn more about their stories, please visit: SurvivorshipToday.com.