Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
(#21 in a series)
She went from triple-negative breast cancer patient to cancer patient advocate, and she’s appreciating every single moment.
Like many women, Eileen Z. Fuentes never heard of triple-negative breast cancer until she was diagnosed with it herself. And, like many of us, she discovered the lump in her breast with a casual touch.
Even though there was no family history of cancer, the mother of three girls was greatly relieved when genetic testing determined there was no genetic link.
Only 34 years old at diagnosis, her nine months of aggressive medical treatment included a lumpectomy, after which she opted to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. That was followed by four and a half months of chemotherapy.
On the topic of mastectomy, Eileen says, “I breastfed all three of my daughters for over a year. I was unafraid to let my breasts go. Additionally, I am young survivor and wanted to have my breasts [reconstructed].
Her participation in a clinical trial was not without complications. A blood clot required additional treatment. Still, she believes her prognosis is quite good. “I was diagnosed at stage 2A, with no lymph node involvement. That, and my lifestyle modifications led them to believe I am in a good place.”
From Cancer Patient to Cancer Patient Advocate, with a Grateful Vibration
Feeling slightly out of place in existing support groups, Eileen sought to find additional ways to cope, both for herself and for others. After two years of training, Eileen founded and led the first Women’s Wellness Series at Columbia University Medical Center so she could share what she learned with other women.
I asked if her experience with triple-negative breast cancer changed her philosophy of life at all. With a resounding “yes,” she answers, “I cherish every moment and feel blessed. I have seen a friend die from triple-negative breast cancer and the fact that I am still here makes me feel incredibly grateful, and I live my life with that vibration.”
She also made a few lifestyle changes … nutritionally, professionally, spiritually, physically… “The list is endless,” she says.
Next: “Happier and Healthier” Despite Multiple Losses: Turning Negative to Positive
“Happier and Healthier” Despite Multiple Losses
Life doesn’t stop when you’re diagnosed with cancer. You can still enjoy the good things, but you aren’t spared from the bad.
While undergoing treatment, Eileen lost her dog, lost her home to natural disaster, and grieved the deaths of her father and her brother. But she’s still here, still alive and embracing life. “Even with all this, I am happier and healthier than I’ve ever been … so are my husband and daughters.”
So what would she say to the newly diagnosed? “My treatment took a total of nine months, the same as a pregnancy. I now celebrate my re-birthday.”
“This has truly impacted everyone around me. Even my employer, Columbia University Medical Center (and where I was treated) is having me meet with the hospital leaders to make huge changes in the way patients are treated. Believe it or not, cancer has truly made my life better.”
She’s making a difference, helping others and helping herself in the process. She not only lives with a grateful vibration, but generously spreads it around. Now that’s how you turn a negative into a positive!
Eileen is now a Wellness, Lifestyle, and Integrative Cancer Coach who works mostly with women from underserved populations. She like to focus on patient empowerment and integrative approaches, which she believes saved her life. She is a wellness contributor for UptownCollective.com, and you can view a three-minute video on her thoughts about breast cancer at http://vimeo.com/23686562
Eileen extends her heartfelt appreciation to Smith Farm for the Healing and the Arts, The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, The Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute, Unity Church of Christ, and The Society of Integrative Oncology for their support and compassion.
Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series
#1 The Lump in my Breast: Meeting the Enemy
#2 Most Breast Lumps are Non-Cancerous: Would mine be?
#3 The Mammogram, the Ultrasound, and ‘the Look’
#4 The Biopsy and Breast Cancer Confirmation
#5 A New Twist: It’s Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
#6 Before the Mastectomy: Planning for the Future
#7 Mastectomy Day: What it’s like to lose a breast
#8 After the Mastectomy: Unveiling and Staging
#9 10 Odd Things to Say to Someone with Breast Cancer
#10 Cancer Battle Plan Phase 2: Chemotherapy
#11 5 Things I Love About my Very Expensive Health Insurance
#12 10 Simple Gestures of Kindness with Healing Power
#13 Half a Year on Chemotherapy and Taking Nothing for Granted
#14 Breast Cancer Treatment: Weighing Reward and Risk
#15 The Radiation Decision, The Long Road, The Badge of Honor
#16 The Healing Power of Nurses
#17 Grieving Son Recounts Mom’s Battle with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
#18 Searching for “Normal” After Cancer
#19 “Did You Beat Cancer?” they want to know
#20 5 Things About Breast Cancer You Should Take to Heart
Access all posts in the Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis.” She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo
Main image copyright: iStockPhoto.com / Head shot courtesy of Eileen Z. Fuentes