The New Face of COPD: Dee

  • Chances are, you or someone you know has COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), an umbrella term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is a common disease -- more than 12 million U.S. adults are estimated to have COPD. There is also evidence that close to 24 million people have impaired lung function, indicating a vast under diagnosis of COPD.


    Interesting facts, yes, but when it comes right down to it, when you're the one who has COPD, it's not the millions who matter most. It's just you, and the people closest to you, who must live day-by-day, night-by-night, breath-by-breath with the challenge of COPD.

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    In honor of COPD Awareness Month, I'm introducing you to four people living with COPD. We've met Eileen and Tim and will later meet Ken. Join me now to meet Dee and see for yourself how she is living - not dying - with COPD. Learn how COPD is no longer a death sentence; and why it doesn't have to be about isolation and illness, but being part of community and living well. This is what living with COPD should be all about.


    Name: Dee
    Age: 57
    Location: Maine
    Occupation: Business owner

    When were you diagnosed?
    Three years ago.


    What was your reaction to the diagnosis?
    I was numb. I had been in the hospital for six days, and I was so ready to go home. No one explained what COPD was, so I was not as worried as everyone else seemed to be. When I researched it later, I was upset to learn I had in incurable, but worst of all, progressive disease.


    What was the reaction of your family and friends?
    At first they seemed more upset than I was. Now, except for my husband, they really don't understand what it is all about. I think they are afraid to hear about it. I have been teaching my husband, and it seems to have helped him. I have improved so much, I am sure that has helped as well. Sometimes I have a difficult time convincing my family that I am not as bad off as they think.


    Do you use supplemental oxygen?
    I did for a while, but not now. I am so fortunate.


    Do you take inhaled medications?
    Yes, Advair and Atrovent.


    Do you exercise regularly? If so, what do you do?
    I did for almost three years. I have been slack about regular exercise lately. I keep busy with work and I am so tired at night. I was going to the gym for Body Pump (weight training) for one hour twice a week, three if I could. I have an old aerobic video for beginners that I was doing, and I did the treadmill faithfully for two years. Now I walk when I can and keep active, but the other things are very important, so I may be back at it again. I guess I am on hiatus. Lol


    What is your biggest limitation from COPD?
    Aerobic activity is difficult. I can't hike, and walking uphill is a slow process. Sometimes I get winded doing very little, and sometimes I fly around like everyone else. It is so unpredictable. No one seems to know where the good days come from, but we just enjoy them.


    What has been most surprising in your journey with COPD?
    How it changes your outlook on life. How it puts everything into perspective.


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    What is your perspective now, as opposed to the time before you went into the hospital and were diagnosed?

    I guess that before, I spent a lot of time worrying about things that weren't worth the time. I was so busy planning what I was going to do tomorrow, or next week, or next month, that I really didn't make time to enjoy the moment. It was such a waste of time. All we are promised is the moment. I feel more alive now - more tuned in to what's going on around me. I'm more appreciative, and in some ways happier and more content. How many times were you grateful for a day of easy breathing? Not many people give it a thought. I never did. Not that every day is always easy, but I just try not to worry that it will be difficult.


    What has helped the most?
    Quitting smoking and educating myself about this disease, and what I can do to help myself. And support.


    What kind of support?
    Support from people who care about me. You never know how many people care about you until a crisis arrives. Then they seem to come from everywhere.
    I have learned that a smile, a kind thought, a phone call, a visit, a ready ear, etc. can make a world of difference in how I feel. Now that I realize how important it is, I try to do the same for others when they need support. It doesn't take much to make a difference.

    Support from those with like illnesses is of great benefit. I think sometimes it is easier to talk to those going through the same thing. You meet the most courageous, kind and caring people that way.


    What has helped the least?
    Naysayers - those who offer no hope. Those that make you feel you got what you deserve. They make you feel you deserve no better, or you are a waste of time.


    How is your health now, compared to when you were first diagnosed?
    It is like day and night. I have progressed so much. I can do more than before.


    If you had to give one piece of advice to somebody with COPD, what
    would it be?

    Quitting smoking is number one.


    Do you have a personal philosophy that keeps you going?
    Educate yourself about your disease and be proactive in your healthcare. Exercise and give your body what it needs to heal. Take your meds. Remember to seek the joy in life, don't forget the laughter - and always have hope. We are only promised the moment we are in, so don't waste your time worrying about tomorrow.


    Jane M. Martin, BA, CRT is the Director of Breathing Better, Living Well.

Published On: November 24, 2008