Gloria is diagnosed with lobular breast cancer. She is originally from Trinidad and currently resides in Canada. She is a Reiki Master and believes in the power of healing, not just through the body's power of healing, but through the energy around us. Gloria shares with us her "aha" moments, the moments in which she feels enlightened and really understands the power of the universe in her own healing process and her own journey; she accomplishes this through deep reflection and introspection. She is able to go back not just years, but decades, to confront the trauma that was in her life and now enables her to live her best and fullest life. We talked about the power of therapeutic touch, the hand-heart connections, and her ultimately deciding to no longer take Letrozole and aromatase inhibitors.
Laura Carfang: Your story begins many years before your actual diagnosis. Was your body trying to tell you something?
Gloria: Yes. Which is very interesting. Even though I have followed up, and was the one to actually identify the so-called "pin head" of a lump, the thing with lobular breast cancer is that it tends to show smaller than it really is. So, even though I did have an ultrasound on it in December, 2018 it showed fine. My mammogram in July, 2019 showed nothing. But lobular cancer is like that, it does not present itself. Ultrasounds don't tend to pick it up because of the way it forms. It's coming from the lobes of the breast which are the milk producing glands, versus ductal which is the glands which are really the ducts that take the breast milk from the lobes to the nipple. Yeah, so only 10% as you said, Laura, I think it's just about 10% that experience lobular breast cancer. It also seems, based on the research that I've done, that it's mostly older women. I think that is because of having gone through menopause. It tends to be in a lot of cases, estrogen positive. I think that has to do with things like diet, exercise, stress and everything all coming together in our body to make that ideal suit, which it sounds like what occurs but for any kind of cancer to occur, right?
Laura Carfang: That seems to be a theme I hear time and again. I don't know if it's just in North America, where we are just workaholics and we take on too much. We're overachievers, we're moms, we have careers, we're taking on co-curricular, extracurricular, volunteer opportunities, and we really fill our plate. I hear time and again, from others and myself , that I didn't realize how stressed out I was until cancer forced me to stop and literally cancel everything that I had going on for the next couple of months.
Gloria: That’s so well said because it causes all of us with a breast cancer diagnosis, to stop and take an inventory of our whole life wheel; and look at all the responsibilities that we carry in that life wheel.
For me, it's like so many various experiences, and I think one of the beautiful things about this healing journey through wellspring is really allowing us to look at ourselves, take the time as we go into meditation, to really ask ourselves the big question. Even just to recall things like your lifeline, and the various losses, whether that is the loss of a loved one through death, to the loss of a relationship through marriage or divorce, loss of jobs, and when you look at all those things, and then you add the complexity of the dynamic of just living, it produces an added stressor. I don't think we understand how stress affects us. The way I look at it now is I have converted my whole life to say I now occupy 1 to 10 and my to-do lists. Eating healthy is a change, exercising, going for walks in nature, breathing in the fresh air and being hugged by the forests.
It's so wonderful to walk alongside a stream, and to take in the moment to observe the various animal life that present themselves to us. Some of my favorites are herons, turtles and all sorts of winged birds.
Laura Carfang: I live in Boston, and I'm in this condensed city urban life, and I love going up to northern New Hampshire. We go to Maine and Vermont, to be in nature, by the ocean, by the water, the streams, the mountains. To me that is rejuvenating, and gives me the energy during the week, and then on weekends to go and escape in nature and then come back into the city dwelling and go through the hustle and bustle. It's so important to connect with our earth, to connect with nature, and whatever that is: whether it's the water, the mountains, the fresh air, to find that solitude and experience.
Gloria: For me, if someone had asked back in December 2020, would I go walk by myself in nature on a daily basis, and I would say, most probably not. Now, I crave my daily walk by myself, because I use it as an opportunity to communicate with nature but also to communicate with myself. So I find [that] I love just walking and chanting in nature.
Laura Carfang: Tell me a little bit about your life prior to your diagnosis.
Gloria: You know, what can I say, I spent 40 odd years in the corporate world. Mostly in IT, software sales, some of the largest corporations you can think of like IBM, for instance, a very hectic fast pace. I think I just never really handled some of the losses that occurred in my life at an early age. So one that came up for me recently, as I went through this course, actually, earlier this year was the fact that I lost one of my very close brothers when I was only 15. He was just four years older than me, but very close, because I was in grade 12, actually, at the time, doing what we call, I'm originally from Trinidad in the Caribbean, we followed the British system of education. I was preparing for all levels, and I was in the science stream and my brother would be the one to explain physics, math and chemistry. Unfortunately, he was in a motorbike accident, and passed on. And I don't think I ever understood what it meant to grieve.
I really don't think my peers in high school even knew that I lost a brother, because we came from different parts of the island. So I think other than maybe four or five girls from the village where I was born and grew up and attended that high school. Funny enough, it was run by Canadian missionaries. Which is so interesting, right? But not being able to really grieve that loss and then lose my mom, I think she just barely stayed alive until I was 24. So nine years later, losing her, you pretty much have to wake up and be an adult very quickly. These things affect us in many, many ways. Until we have the opportunity to take the time, I think to really look and ask, how did this affect me? And have I grieved? Did I really go through the process of grieving?
Laura Carfang: It's so important to allow yourself that time, and know that there's not really an end either. I believe that grieving is a process. But I understand also, that you enjoy spending a lot of time out in nature.
Gloria: We live in the country. There are lovely, lovely trails. So I was walking one day and saw this beautiful red cardinal and I didn't know what I was feeling or why. But I remember learning somewhere along my path that a red cardinal is normally like a loved one just visiting. And I got this flash of my brother. I found myself just in total tears. These are the kinds of experiences - I think until we give ourselves the time and to really be honest with, the way I look at it Laura, it's me, myself and I, nobody else. Right? All three of us call it even if you think of it as the body, mind, and spirit, because I do believe the things that affect us on the physical level have an impact on the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual.
Laura Carfang: I completely agree. You've been involved in a lot of healing, personal healing, going through workshops, various modules, can you tell me about the healing process for you and how you're doing? Not just with all the losses you just described, but also with your breast cancer diagnosis?
Gloria: For me as I go through my healing journey, there is one that really sticks out for me, and that is the ---. Growing up, we always heard and it's somewhere in the back of my head that says: "blood is thicker than water". For me, that has not been my personal experience with my family of origin, especially my siblings. It has now allowed me to sit with that and ask myself, what do I believe family to be? And to me, family could be anyone. It's all of humanity. That is one "aha" moment. The other is: "what would my choice be?" If something should occur with any one of my siblings. I had to really sit with that for some time, in my case, I had to let go of that disappointment, let go of the expectation, and really ask myself who am I?
Laura Carfang: Which is scary. It's scary to confront who you are, and really look at yourself in the mirror and do some of that deep healing internally that will bubble up emotions that you might not be expecting to, to have bubbled up.
Gloria: Absolutely. I think every day, if we spend time with ourselves just in the silence in those moments, we learn more about ourselves. Then we can make conscious informed choices as to who we want to be?
In that process, I look at myself and I say, "Well, I am loving and kind and compassionate". I'm able to discern, is something from the ego, is it from source? Therefore, I can make informed choices. So my informed choice around this myth is the change to reframe or redefine what family is to me. In addition to that, to say, what is the choice I'm going to make? Should some of my siblings have, maybe a health issue or something like that. And I've decided that this is who I am. So I'll respond the same way that I always did. But with boundaries.
Laura Carfang: Have you had other "aha" moments as you're experiencing the journey of healing?
Gloria: Another "aha" moment for me in this process is one reframing the thinking but also choosing what are healthy boundaries for me. Case in point was 2007. I think it was when my dad had a stroke. For me, I felt the connection. This occurred at the airport in Trinidad. Both my son and I went down to Trinidad, I had just changed jobs and I decided I had about a week to spend in Trinidad, but I needed to bring my dad back up to Canada. We had to literally lift him on the airplane and the 12 years that I had with him. After that, he was in the hospital here in Canada for 46 days. Because his stroke affected his left side, he couldn't eat, he couldn't speak. He had no movement, the phenomenal health care team that was involved in his healing really made a difference, and of course, his will and his desire to live.
Those are lessons for me that now I could recall and implement in my own healing. It's interesting that the last two years as you read from my story, we lost him just after his 94th birthday. But that was another experience. He literally taught me conscious dying. So I had the opportunity to spend four days with him at our local hospice. In those four days, I could see the symbolism of everything from the choice of his golf shirts that the nurses chose to put on, to his last rites, to his communication, to learning and therapeutic touch, which was something I never even heard about until hospice. Even though I was trained, and I am trained in Reiki. So even as a Reiki Master, I was never exposed to therapeutic touch. As a volunteer, she taught me what they call the hand to heart connection. When someone is in the process of dying.
Laura Carfang: Can you explain to me what therapeutic touch is, and this relationship between hand and heart?
Gloria: Therapeutic touch actually was developed by the head of nursing. I think it's New York State of New York State and it is evidence based research. So a lot of the nursing schools actually teach therapeutic touch. And the way I would explain therapeutic touch is recognizing that we're all energy. So I think once we can get our heads around the fact that we're all energy, whether it's animate or inanimate, there are many levels to our energetic field. So there is the physical body, there is the emotional, the mental and the spiritual. Some people are able to see or feel those fields. It's really about bringing with intention. It's going into that heart space, and holding that intention of opening an energetic portal for someone who is dealing with any kind of imbalance in the energy field, to bring balance, order and harmony back to their energy field. But it's up to the person that is the recipient, to then take that opening or that portal, and make that choice. So I think, if it's something that I have learned through this whole process, choosing wisely, and being empowered in your choice. So, that internal guidance is very much present.
Laura Carfang: Almost, allowing yourself to be open to the signs and energy that the universe is giving you. As you were mentioning, like with your experience walking and seeing the red cardinal, it's easy to be looking down at your phone or looking at something else. Or, talking with a friend and not really taking in your surroundings. So it's really allowing yourself to be open to these signs. And then, interpreting them and having that connection. You know, as
I'm learning about myself, energy healing, and practicing different techniques in terms of opening up chakras and just being more attuned with my own healing journey. I was pouring coffee this morning, and sometimes like when you pour the coffee, they make designs like in your coffee? And so, I got a heart!
Gloria: That's funny, I knew it'd be one.
Laura Carfang: Oh, my gosh, yes, that's exactly what happened. And I'm thinking, Okay, today is going to be a day where I'm going to make connections. I'm going to move forward with compassion and empathy and love. It's just one of those little things where I could have just poured the coffee and drank the cup, etc. but really taking that moment to pause and be present, as you were mentioning.
Gloria: Isn't that really? It's like coming into a place of self-love and self-compassion. That has really nothing to do with anything else. I know in some cultures, death is spoken of. People have seen a dead body. I think in North America, we make it so clinical. Maybe other than the indigenous peoples of North America, most people go through life and may have never had that experience. To be able to sit with someone, as I was fortunate to sit with my dad for four days, and be like his death doula really is what it is. And to be aware, I found that because I had that opportunity. The grieving was a totally different process.
Laura Carfang: Tell me about that. How would you describe the differences?
Gloria: I have no unfinished business. Whatever I needed to say to him, just to be with him. So I think that is the biggest gift, not having any unfinished business with the person.
Laura Carfang: That’s beautiful. I was speaking with another dear friend who was on the podcast, and she lost her husband to a terminal illness. She described those last days as probably one of the most intimate moments of their relationship and how beautiful that was to be able to experience being with your loved one as they're passing, actively passing.
Gloria: You talked about earlier, the hand to heart connection. So, the volunteer at hospice taught me it's like, you rest their hand, right? So it's their heart, so it's left to left and you form that infinity symbol. When you do that, you form that infinite heart connection. And, you just hold it as long as you so choose. And so the moment she told us that, whether it was myself, or my son, or my partner sitting with my dad; we tried to do it as much as we could at different times during those four days.
Gloria: I think it was a very peaceful process for him. It wasn't agitated, there wasn't any major gasping, or gnashing of teeth, or anything like that. It was just so beautiful, it's almost because I was there with him for those four days, 24 hours in his room that you go through those moments where you can see the process. So you know that hearing is most probably one of the last things to go. So you always want to whisper and let them know, it's okay. My dad was Hindu, so he practiced Hinduism. And we had his last rites the Monday before he transitioned. It's almost as though, everything in the universe has a specific rhythm, or a divine matrix, call it whatever you will, because we had that for him that Monday and he transitioned, exactly three days later. It was halfway between the time, we did his last rites from 6:30 to 7, and he transitioned 6:45, three days later.
Gloria: There were things like a robin sitting on the roof, across the laneway that I could see from his room. And my Dad, though interestingly enough, this year will be 40 years since my mom has transitioned. My parents would come up from Trinidad to Canada, almost every year because all my siblings are scattered all over North America. My mom 40 years ago said no, she wasn't coming. My dad was in the Rockies. One of my brothers lives in Calgary, and he was only there for three days and had to turn around to come back to Trinidad to attend her funeral. Do you know, two years ago, after we celebrated his 94th birthday, my partner and I were in the Rockies on vacation. When he fell ill, we returned halfway from our trip. Where was I? So is this something that was meant to be? It's such a bigger question, I have no doubt in my mind that my mom was there to greet him and help him along his path.
Laura Carfang: How has this healing that we're describing and talking about today, and the work that you're doing with wellsprings in terms of the courses that you're taking? How has that helped you with your own personal journey with breast cancer?
Gloria: I feel like I'm truly living my best life. Every single day. When I say my best live every single day, it's a sense of contentment. It's a sense of being comfortable with me. It's a sense of relieving expectations of myself and anyone else.
Laura Carfang: On social media, we see a lot of these doctored photos, everyone forcing the smile, everyone pretending that life is perfect, and that they're living their best life. They have the vacations, and you see on social media that what they want to choose to present, versus what I hear you describing is, I would say, a tune to understanding what it means to be at peace with yourself.
Gloria: If I can just share with everybody on this journey to sit in silence and really discern, because we all have that ability to discern, is this something, whether it's a decision around surgery, or diet or medication to the other extreme, which could be, hands on healing.
Laura Carfang: Exactly.
Gloria: I think both spectrums play such an important role in our lives. It's not one path only. But it's really recognizing the whole person and really looking at ourselves on all levels; so physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. But also looking at it from a full life wheel.
Because like you and I were talking about, we are so busy, you asked me to tell you a little bit about myself, you know, being a full time professional, having kids and now having grandkids and going through a separation and divorce.
That whole journey by itself requires a total introspection because it also has beliefs and limiting beliefs. Right? Because somewhere along the line depending on our religion, we may have a belief that we only have one partner and that may not necessarily be our belief.
Laura Carfang: How did you decide to no longer take Letrozole, one of the aromatase inhibitors because of one of the terrible side effects?
Gloria: I think for me as I go into my silence and my meditation on a daily basis, is something, because the breast cancer tumor was grade one, but stage two, so the difference is stages based on size, but grade is based on the percentage of abnormal cells within the tumor. So grade one tumor in my case specifically, was less than 10%. So, lobular breast cancer tends to be slow growing and I had gone through, very fortunate with my medical team and a fantastic surgeon who requested all the tests to ascertain prior to surgery or presenting a choice around surgery to me as to was this anywhere else in my body. So knowing that, and being an active participant and reading and researching once the lumpectomy occurred, and I got the pathology of the lumpectomy that indicated it was stage two grade one, and then estrogen progesterone 90 to 100% return.
Gloria: But going back for my CT scan, I observed that there were indications of a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease so then my doctor had a huge series of blood work around the progression or non-progression of a non-alcoholic fatty liver. And so knowing what I could do to address that, because I think for me, that's my root cause of why this imbalance occurred. That combined with stress and I think emotion, probably two of the main factors. So not eating healthy, not exercising, being postmenopausal, we have to take care of ourselves in a totally different way than when we produce enough estrogen.
Gloria: The thing with estrogen and being postmenopausal, which is something that I learned as well, is that it doesn't mean that we're not producing estrogen. It means that in my case, which is why I think the stress because the adrenals produce cortisol that gets converted to estrogen. If I don't address the non-alcoholic fatty liver, which takes about three years, I am thankful and grateful that it's the one organ that, if you take care of it, can rejuvenate. Having the test done that indicates there isn't any probability of it progressing to be cirrhosis of the liver, anything like that. I've chosen to change the way I eat, eat more vegetables, and do intermittent fasting. So I have, maybe 80% of my plate is vegetables and 20% protein and just exercise and just even walk and be more active. That combined with the fact that my medical oncologist did the oncotype tests in under two months. So as you most probably aware, the only time they can do an oncotype test is supposedly it's biopsy or surgery, in this case, a lumpectomy where they can look at the tumor and give some indicators as to what's the probability of recurrence. So again, in my case, understanding the onco scores, mine was just 11, which meant for them to even consider recommended chemo based on age, I would have had to have a score of over 26.
Laura Carfang: Wow, that is low.
Gloria: So that was one, the oncotype. The onco score also gives an indicator, because there's another part of it that shows if you went under an aromatase inhibitor for five years, how does that affect your longevity or non-recurrence of breast cancer? Again, in my case, it was taking me from the average of, I think it's now one in eight I believe. A woman can get breast cancer to one in 33. Everybody's so unique. And so my body, I listen to my body. My body was saying, just after two months of taking this little tiny, tiny pill, it's like, if it fell on the floor, you can't even find it.
Laura Carfang: I'm on Letrozole, too, so I completely understand.
Gloria: I had all three side effects. I went through menopause, Laura without any night sweats, hot flashes, none of those things and something triggered in my body with Letrozole that I have night sweats. I had hot flashes. The worst was the joint pain in my hands. To the point where I would get up at the wee hours of the morning. And I can't go to sleep because if I lie down, it's worse. So I would try to move and slowly it would ease but it just felt, I don't know, like I imagine how an arthritic set of fingers feel. And so after the first month, I thought "Okay Gloria try for a month", I called my medical oncologist, being the wonderful person that he is, suggested instead of taking it at night, let's try it in the morning.
Laura Carfang: Which is so funny because I hear a lot of women say, I take it at night so I can sleep through the symptoms, but in your case, it was waking you up. That was that bad.
Gloria: It was waking me up in my REM sleep from two to seven. That's the time when I need my baby sleep. I need to rest like a baby, right?
Laura Carfang: So maybe taking it in the morning when you're active and walking and moving would mitigate some of the symptoms.
Gloria: It did not, it was like clockwork, Laura. The second month was the same thing. So then he said, why don't we just stop after two months, see when the side effects are gone. And then we would try the next aromatase inhibitor. In my case, he suggested Exemestane. Because Letrozole and Anastrozole are built the same way. So try Exemestane. Well, I'm still having night sweats and hot flashes. And I have made enough changes that I walk a path of well-being. I know that where my head and my heart are connected with such intense passion, that I know I'm healthy.
Laura Carfang: So you chose to forego the aromatase inhibitors, you are trusting your intuition and your body. And like you were saying, and how we discussed for this podcast, all of the amazing changes that you've made with exercise and diet, and then just being attuned to healing and Reiki and the therapeutic touch. So you, it's beautiful. I'm so excited for you. I felt like this is one of many conversations and felt like we're just scratching the surface on a number of topics that I would love to invite you back for future conversations. And then I want to ask in terms of closing words and remarks. Is there anything that you would like to highlight for our listeners? Any words of encouragement or advice to those listening?
Gloria: Oh, absolutely, I think what I would suggest to all of us is to be an active participant in our well-being. The second is do our research, be informed. Third is trust; that instinct, gut instinct, internal guidance. Whether we do that through prayer, through meditation, or through walking in nature; I think they all have the same effect. And know that healing is possible. We all have all the tools, including allopathic medicine, don't get me wrong, but that combined with a holistic approach, to heal ourselves, I do believe we are multidimensional beings of light, we're just energy. As we walk that path of really understanding who we are, it's looking at the whole person. And for me to be able to go and grieve losses that occurred 40 something years ago, it's just a yes and it just tells you where these things can reside in our being-ness that we haven't uncovered through our own work, through our own introspection to look at ourselves. It's a choice because we can choose differently, we can pretend that it's not part of who we are. Or we can say, no, this is something that is really important. Get into that place of self-love and self-compassion because I really do believe once we are able to truly get to that place, that we are then being the best that we can be in the moment.
Laura Carfang: I love that. Thank you, Gloria. Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us.