She still has the colorful map plastered to a wall in her Menifee home, pushpins denoting all the spots the couple visited during their 27 year marriage. From Australia to Zimbabwe, they managed to collect quite an array of stamps in their passports. And then cancer stepped in the way.
Joe’s colon cancer diagnosis came first and not long after Gloria was diagnosed with breast cancer.
They never did make it to the Galápagos Islands, yet they didn’t allow cancer to infect their strong bond.
“My husband was the type that said he would rather have the quality of life,” the petite Gloria explained while delicately perched on the edge of the sofa in her Menifee home. “He always said that he didn’t want to be a cancer patient.”
It was a second marriage for both and they made sure to always keep the lines of communication open even in the midst of illness. Everyday at 3 pm in their living room – no matter what was going on – the couple would sit down to enjoy a cocktail and just chat. And they continued going on weekly movie and dinner dates with friends until the end.
After four years of treatment Joe spent the remainder of his days at home with Hospice of the Valley, dying just before his 80th birthday.
An Oasis of Awareness
Just as her husband was determined not to spend his final years nursing cancer, Gloria was bound to not use his death as excuse to sit around and mope and to use her breast cancer as inspiration and empowerment.
That’s one of the reasons the energetic 72-year-old mother, grandmother and great-grandmother founded Women’s Day at The Oasis, the Menifee-based retirement community she calls home. The event, which coincides with National Women’s Day, is a day dedicated to women’s causes. When she was organizing the inaugural one, Gloria discovered that the number one issue is breast cancer. So it was only fitting that she asked her beloved doctor to speak at last year’s event.
“When I had the last mammo and they found something is when they referred me to Dr. Bremner and it was probably the happiest day of my life when I met her. She is so special. She makes you feel at ease, she makes you feel that there is treatment out there for you and you don’t have to consider this the end of your life, as a lot of people do when they hear the word ‘cancer’. And she is herself so uplifting that you can’t help but feel her energy and spirit. It’s almost like you have a friend in Dr. Bremner.”
Fortunately Gloria’s diligence in receiving annual mammograms paid off healthwise and her breast cancer was caught early, at Stage 0. She was able to avoid chemotherapy, instead treating the cancer with a lumpectomy, wherein only the tumor and some surrounding tissue is removed, followed by radiation.
The unknown is what’s really scary about cancer, explained Gloria. But Dr. Bremner’s expertise and the way she explained every bit of their plan put her at ease immediately.
“When I went to see her she said ‘Do not be nervous. Yes, you have it but I’m going to explain it to you.’ We had a plan and we followed that plan and by golly I’ve been cancer free (for four years).”
Gloria now uses events such as Women’s Day and her own voice, to spread awareness throughout her community. She tells all her friends how important it is to receive annual mammograms – that she caught her cancer early because of it. One friend hadn’t had a mammogram and at Gloria’s urging finally made an appointment. She ended up with Stage 3 cancer and underwent a double mastectomy.
“She said in a way you saved my life because I would have never gone and I kept pushing her to go.”
Gloria also makes sure to let other women know that you’re not in the clear, just because breast cancer doesn’t run in your family. No one in her family had suffered from breast cancer, she reminds them so continue receiving yearly mammograms.
It’s recommended that women begin receiving annual mammograms at the age of 40 and those with first-degree relatives (mother, sister or daughter) who had breast cancer start as early as 30 years old, according to the American College of Radiology.
Although her 2014 run for Menifee City Council was unsuccessful, Gloria continues to remain involved in her community. In addition to her involvement with Oasis Women’s Day, she serves as president of the Foundation on Aging, which supports needy seniors.
“It kind of opened my eyes that we should embrace every day that we have. Don’t give up because you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. I felt like I had a new journey in my life.”