The pink ribbons, the fundraisers, and the walks. These symbols of Breast Cancer Awareness Month are incredibly valuable for the aura, awareness, and support they produce. But on the opposite end sits fear. So our October motto is Learn & Conquer: overcoming chronic adversity. We spoke to Dr. Innerfield—a breast cancer survivor—about handling fear and maintaining emotional wellness in the face of pain.
There is no proper way to deal with fear. When asked how she confronted it, Dr. Innerfield immediately referenced and credited the people that helped her. She mentioned the value of “having great people around you that have your back and support you and encourage you to be your best self through the down days.” With such daunting circumstances, there were obviously going to be extremely difficult days. Dr. Innerfield expressed her immense gratitude for the people that supported her in those situations.
Dr. Innerfield mentioned another specific source of support, which came from her breastie—a friend that also went through breast cancer. She remembers speaking to other people that were well-intentioned, but who simply didn’t know what to say. For Dr. Innerfield, having someone that could relate to the pain of chemotherapy and talk about what they did to cope was immensely helpful.
Since ringing the bell as a cancer survivor, Dr. Innerfield has had an important realization: “I can do absolutely anything. There are no limits to what I can do. I put my body through the most rigorous test and not just your body’s challenged, but your mind. The mental component of having to get through your treatments is huge. It’s just as much, if not harder than the physical.” Pushing through the fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis is immeasurably honorable and Dr. Innerfield highlighted the value of realizing how capable everyone is. She mentioned that having a positive mindset is essential because difficult circumstances and fear will always come up, but we can control the way we react to it.
As a healthcare professional, Dr. Innerfield also has to consider the best ways to approach the fears of her patients. One of her top priorities is making sure “to not just deal with the patient’s medical needs, but also what they’re going through emotionally and personally.” Dr. Innerfield knows how important that was for her, so she individualizes her approach to make sure that patients feel comfortable and understand that their doctor views them as a person, not solely patients with diagnoses. A patient’s diagnosis doesn’t define them. Dr. Innerfield emphasizes to her patients that she’ll do everything she can to get them back to the activities and passions that their medical state makes more difficult to engage with.
October is also Emotional Wellness Month and for Dr. Innerfield, her emotional wellness correlates directly with being physically active. She runs regularly and plays sports, which she says helps in maintaining a positive mindset.
She understands how difficult it can be to remain active through treatment, but she spoke about how valuable it is to set goals and have something to reach for, no matter how small. She also recognizes that at some points in the process, reaching for certain goals is a lofty ask, but the principle stands—having something to push for gives you motivation to keep going.
Also, even though it’ll be different this year because of the pandemic, Halloween is approaching! We can still embrace the joyful spirit of the holiday and Dr. Innerfield has a Halloween memory that’ll definitely remind us that we can find joy if we’re willing to look for it: “I always dress up with my niece and my nephew. We do family costumes. Last year, we did Frozen. My niece was Elsa, I was Anna, my brother was Hans and my nephew was Olaf. It was so great because the costume came with a wig so nobody had to know I was bald. The kids got such a kick out of it! The next thing I knew my niece was asking me to wear my ‘Anna’ wig to a family wedding!”
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Innerfield is raising money for the American Cancer Society with her 35 Miles for Breast Cancer Challenge. Take part in the challenge or donate to support Dr. Innerfield and cancer research! She’ll be taking over our Instagram and Facebook accounts to document her progress through stories and keep you updated with the donation goal, so make sure you follow along.
A support system and trying to have a positive outlook are productive tools to get through difficult medical circumstances and the fear that comes with them. Dr. Innerfield sets an incredible example and we’re grateful that she helps patients with their challenges, both mental & physical. We’re also excited and thankful that the American Cancer Society picked up her story—check out some of that content . We’ll see you back here next month!