When I was a very young girl, I drove from England to Scotland with my parents. Both of them smoked up a storm the entire time. It wasn’t long after that trip that I started smoking myself.
How did you cope with having a lung condition?
By the time I was in my late thirties, my doctor advised me to quit smoking, cautioning me that if I kept smoking, I would end up on a breathing machine by the time I was fifty. Hearing this news, I went into denial and stayed there for many years. After all, everyone smoked – everywhere, all the time.
By my early forties, I was living with COPD – a serious lung condition. Breathing had become quite difficult. Finally, the day following my 49th birthday, I planned a five-week break from work to quit smoking. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done. But I was successful. In just nine days I went cold turkey, even giving up the nicotine patch. It was a mindset. I said to myself, “I am ready to stop smoking.” I joined an online quit smoking support group and made a plan.
Almost immediately, I felt an improvement in my breathing. But despite quitting smoking, I still struggled with shortness of breath. Lung Specialist, Dr. Mark Fitzgerald, referred me to Vancouver Coastal Health’s pulmonary rehabilitation program to help me learn how to manage my condition and exercise safely.
What did you learn in pulmonary rehab?
One of the most profound things I learned was the need to be proactive. No one else could fix me. I started a binder, called it My Health Matters and began reading books about how to get healthy. One book that was particularly inspiring was Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life. I went and found activities I could manage, without being too fearful.
Did you participate in any lung health research projects?
I learned last April about the opportunity to participate in a research project called the BC Lung Screen Trial. Initial tests discovered I did not have lung cancer. However, they did find a severe blockage in one of my arteries. I was, thankfully, swiftly and successfully treated. Going forward, I work closely with my doctor. He referred me to a LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic in Vancouver – one of a growing number of exercise clinics that offer safe, supervised fitness programs for people with heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other chronic health conditions.
Do you feel safe exercising?
I look forward to my sessions every Tuesday and Thursday after work. The staff check my vital signs before I begin exercising, and they design routines to be interesting as well as challenging. In just six months, I have reduced my cholesterol medication by 50%, no longer need to take blood pressure medication, and have lost more than 10% of my overall weight.
Set to retire soon, I am in the best health of my life and forever grateful to all the lung professionals I worked with throughout my journey. By sharing my knowledge, I hope to inspire a positive attitude in others who have lung conditions. Attitude is everything!