Blogs > TNBC Aware: How Being Diagnosed With Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Connected Me To My Roots

TNBC Aware: How Being Diagnosed With Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Connected Me To My Roots

  • 7 Min. Read
  • 03/03/15

Speaker and Integrative Cancer Care and Wellness Coach Eileen Fuentes on how triple-negative breast cancer connected her to her cultural roots. Eileen also included a recipe below!


Wellness and healthy living has become very trendy. It seems as if everyone is sipping on smoothies and doing yoga. While I have always been health-conscious, the messages I was receiving in the media confused me about what to eat and how to live. Like many women, I thought low-fat anything, artificial sweeteners, and highly processed foods were good for me.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) at 34 years old that I made it a point to really understand how to eat and live in order to reduce my risk of recurrence. What makes TNBC unique is that there are no targeted therapies to treat it and it has a poorer prognosis as compared to other breast cancer subtypes. While I’d agree with you that this cancer is definitely “negative”, the name actually refers to the fact that the cancer is estrogen receptor negative (ER-), progesterone receptor negative (ER-), and HER2/neu negative. This disease also disproportionally affects premenopausal women and those of African-American and Latino heritage.

The fact that I fit into both categories and had no family history motivated me to look closer at what I could do given my limited medical options. Below are 5 lifestyle changes that I made that were beneficial:

  1. No matter how I felt, I always exercised regularly including simple movements like walking or more vigorous activities like qigong.
  2. I began my spiritual journey to learn more about myself, my purpose, and to seek guidance on my post-cancer life.
  3. I maintained a journal, which later turned into a newsletter for my loved ones, and ultimately a blog.
  4. I stopped using toxic products on my body and reduced the toxic thoughts I allowed to entire my mind.
  5. I used to food to reduce the side-effects of cancer treatment and to connect me to family/caregivers.


While on my healing journey, I realized that many of my new activities were very similar to those of my ancestors in the Dominican Republic. The more I learned, the more I felt connected to my roots. Out of this realization and formal training in holistic nutrition, integrative cancer care, and health-supportive cooking, a bilingual wellness program at Columbia University Medical Center was born. Given that the hospital is located in the mostly immigrant community of Washington Heights in New York City, we were able to learn a lot from each other.

IMG_1465We held ourselves accountable, enjoyed healthy meals together, and took part in group fitness activities that kept us laughing and sweating simultaneously. Caregivers and kids also enjoyed the program as they too were in desperate need of healing. Initially the words, “triple negative breast cancer” felt like a death sentence but six years later, I also have the opportunity to serve as an example to my 3 young daughters who are emulating what they see, which I am confident will serve them well.

Here is a quick recipe that is both ethnically sensitive and loaded with anticancer ingredients. Also Check out: 10 Anticancer Foods (+ Recipes) That You’ll Actually Want To Eat:

Grilled Pineapple, Upland Cress, Avocado Salad


Total Time: 20 minutes


1 bunch upland cress

1 Pineapple, peeled, cored – cut into 1 inch thick slices

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or fresh lime juice

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1 large Florida (West Indian) avocado or 2 Hass avocados

1/2 small red onion thinly slivered lengthwise


Rinse upland cress in a colander under cold running water to remove grit or sand. Discard any yellow leaves. Pat dry with a paper towel.

Set stovetop grill or barbecue to medium high heat. Place the pineapple slices on a baking pan. Then transfer pineapple to grill and heat for a total of 5-7 minutes on each side, until lightly golden brown.

While pineapple is grilling, place the garlic, olive oil, vinegar or lime juice, cumin, salt, turmeric and pepper in a small bowl and wisk to combine. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.

Cut the avocado(s) lengthwise in half around the pit and remove the pit. Place the avocado halves cut side down and slice lengthwise into 1-inch-wide wedges. Peel each segment by hand and cut into 1-inch cubes.

To assemble the salad begin by placing the upland cress in a medium bowl and toss with half the dressing, then arrange on a platter.

Add the pineapple and avocado to the same bowl and toss with the rest of the dressing. Mound the pineapple slices and avocado pieces over the bed of upland cress. Garnish with slivers of red onion and serve immediately.

Eileen Z. Fuentes was diagnosed with stage II triple-negative breast cancer in 2008. In 2010, she founded and led the first bilingual wellness program at Columbia University Medical Center’s breast cancer clinic. She is a wife and mother to 3 daughters. To learn more, visit: