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Unveiling The Unspoken Trauma Of Cancer Caregiving

Erin Copelan

Caregiver, UNOS Ambassador, Speaker, Author, Massage Therapist

Being a caregiver for a loved one with cancer can be challenging, with unexpected twists and topics that are rarely discussed, including trauma and sexual health. In the podcast episode, "Can Caregivers Heal Too? Unveiling the Unspoken Trauma of Cancer Caregiving," I had a conversation with Erin Copelan, a caregiver who shares her unique experience of finding out about her husband's liver cancer diagnosis in a rather unconventional way. Erin's story highlights the importance of resilience, adaptability, and support in navigating the caregiving journey.

Caregivers Need Support Too

Erin recounts the shock and numbness she felt upon receiving her husband's cancer diagnosis. Erin quickly took action, seeking a second opinion and questioning the diagnosis. This proactive approach highlights the importance of being informed and advocating for oneself and loved ones in the face of a medical crisis.

One aspect of Erin's journey that she discusses is the lack of support she received as a caregiver. While medical professionals focused on her husband's well-being, Erin felt overlooked and unsupported. She recalls a doctor's visit where the nurse dismissed her concerns, assuming that she, as the wife, would naturally be more distressed than her husband. This interaction highlights a gap in caregiver support, where the emotional and practical needs of those caring for loved ones with cancer are often overlooked.

Erin's experience raises important questions about the role of caregivers in the healthcare system. While the primary focus is understandably on the patient, caregivers play a crucial role in providing emotional support, managing logistics, and advocating for their loved ones. Ignoring the needs of caregivers can lead to increased stress, burnout, and a negative impact on their ability to provide effective care.

Self-Care is Essential for Caregivers

Self-care is essential for caregivers. This is a message that is often overlooked amid the demanding and selfless role of caring for others. Erin shares her personal experience with therapy and how it helped her in her caregiving journey. Her therapist reminded her that it was not her responsibility to keep her husband alive and that she needed to acknowledge her limitations and take care of herself. This reminder was a turning point for Erin, as it allowed her to recognize that she is human and not responsible for saving lives. This realization is crucial for caregivers, as it allows them to prioritize their own well-being and mental health.

Taking breaks and practicing self-care can be difficult for caregivers, as they often feel guilty for prioritizing their own needs. Erin refers to self-care as "taking a pause" and emphasizes that it doesn't have to be something big or extravagant. She finds solace in activities such as coloring, which allows her to relax and be present in the moment. These small acts of self-care can make a world of difference for caregivers, as they provide an opportunity to recharge and rejuvenate.

"The biggest thing we never talk about, and it was the hardest chapter for me to write in my book, but I wrote a whole chapter about sex." - Erin Copelan

Erin Copelan is a caregiver to her husband who was diagnosed with liver cancer over 10 years ago. She is also an author, speaker, massage therapist, and UNOS Ambassador.

Take the Time to Work Through Trauma

One important aspect of caregiving that Erin emphasizes is the need to take time to work through trauma. She discusses how caregivers often find themselves in a reactive state, constantly responding to the needs and challenges that come with caring for a loved one who is ill. This constant state of reactivity can take a toll on both the physical and mental health of caregivers.

To address this, Erin suggests that caregivers give themselves time to settle into their new reality and acclimate to the information and emotions that come with it. This means allowing themselves to feel and work through the trauma they are experiencing. She explains that if caregivers do not allow their bodies to go through these cycles of processing trauma, it can become stuck within them, leading to negative health effects.

No One Told Me

In her book, "Welcome to Caregiving, The Things Caregivers Never Talk About," Erin shares her experiences as a caregiver, providing lessons she learned along the way. She aims to create a sense of community and support for other caregivers who may be feeling alone or overwhelmed.

One topic that Erin addresses in her book, and that is often overlooked in caregiving discussions, is the impact of caregiving on a caregiver's sex life. She devotes a whole chapter to this topic, acknowledging that the stresses and challenges of caregiving can affect every facet of a caregiver's life. She highlights the importance of addressing and discussing this aspect of caregiving, as it is often not adequately addressed by healthcare professionals.

Erin and I hope this episode will enlighten the healthcare system and others on the often-overlooked role of caregivers and the need for support and self-care. Erin's story serves as a reminder that caregivers play a vital role in the cancer journey and deserve recognition and resources to help them navigate the challenges they face.

To listen to the full episode and learn more about Erin, her caregiving experience, and her mission to soften the caregiving journey, click on the episode in the SmartPlayer below. You can also listen on your favorite podcast app.

Don't forget to share this blog and the podcast episode with anyone who may benefit from hearing Erin's inspiring story. Together, we can navigate cancer and support one another through the ups and downs of the journey.

Other Episodes You'll Enjoy

The Inspirational Caregiver

How to Be A Caregiver With No Regrets


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