The Elixir – Wellness Warriors

BY Eileen Z. Fuentes (@theSPEACHgal)

Photography by Paul Lomax (@PaulLomaxPhoto)

Did you ever feel that the person who is overseeing your health didn’t even look at you in the eyes? Or better yet, did you ever feel empowered knowing that YOU can work towards your full recovery? And if so, do you know how? Would you know how to support and nourish yourself? Well, I can tell you that after my breast cancer diagnosis, I was emotionally and physically drained. I was given conflicting nutrition information and had no idea how to rebuild my life. I realized that after more than 12 years of healthcare administration experience, I really had no idea how it was when the shoe was on the other foot. After completing my treatment consisting of numerous surgeries and nearly 5 months of chemotherapy, my surgeon and Chief of Breast Surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Sheldon Feldman, was the first physician who asked me “what could we have done better?” And so the journey to answer that question began. I wanted to not only connect the dots but also to be part of a radical shift when it comes to self-healing and the patient/provider relationship.

After two years of extensive training in holistic health, patient navigation and integrative therapies, I proposed to lead a free 6-month women’s wellness series where patients and healthcare providers would take part in nutrition, exercise and lifestyle coaching and fortunately my offer was accepted. I was paired with a yoga instructor/survivor and our program was born. Our participants are also quite diverse. There are women who speak little or no English, young mothers and grandmothers who show up even if they have to bring children with them, women who travel from downtown Manhattan, New Jersey, the Bronx, and then there’s Yuka, a famous artist and hat designer who is still actively part of the group while she is traveling to her native Japan! And by the way, if you notice there is a shortage of watercress, quinoa and turmeric in the neighborhood, those are my wellness warriors who have scouted all of Washington Heights to get all the local supply. There are also advantages that healthcare providers receive. Not only do they get a glimpse as to what our concerns are outside of the 10-15 minute office appointment, they also learn and are better equipped to take care of themselves while being able to effectively respond to questions their patients may have. The New York Times recently featured an article on the lack of nutrition information provided in medical schools and according to, surgeons experience extreme burnout and are listed at #4 on the most stressful jobs of 2010 list.

We have so many volunteers willing to share their talent that I am truly convinced that people are inherently good. The result has been overwhelmingly positive and continues to expand beyond diet, yoga, and lifestyle instruction. In the coming months, there are more activities scheduled. We will have art and massage therapists, zumba classes, we will learn about healing herbs, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), naturopathic medicine, career coaching, and spirituality. We will have survivor testimonials and an author/survivor will discuss intimacy issues. This week, we were fortunate to have Combinacion Perfecta, two dancers (one of which is part of Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater) teach us how to dance salsa. The participants were mostly cancer survivors but there was also a breast surgeon, a medical student, a hospital Administrator, and a child. There was so much laughter in the room that at one point security came to check out what was going on. This is definitely not what you expect cancer patients and medical professionals to look and act like! There is a sisterhood that surpasses the language barriers that exist in the group and has made this experience so incredibly life-changing for all of us. I know that we are being healed simply by the immune system’s response to pure and utter joy! To learn more about how to cancer-proof your life with superfoods, be sure to watch the Dr. Oz Show this Thursday on Fox and look out for yours truly in the front row!!!

My life’s purpose is reaching critical mass for healing, personal & social transformation and enlightenment. ~Deepak Chopra

For more information on the Women’s Wellness Series, please call 212.342.3911.

For information in Spanish, please contact Jenny Saldaña at 212.305.9894.

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