Managing COPD doesn't mean giving up what you love

Bill Marshall lives in Port Coquitlam with his wife, Kate.  He is retired but used to manage non-profit organizations, including most recently managing St John's Ambulance. Bill is 70 years old and lives with COPD.  

When and how did you find out you had COPD?

I had been a lifelong smoker, finally quitting in 2005. Two years later, during two different international flights, I picked up bacterial and viral infections from the air inside the planes.  I went to my doctor and had some tests and it was determined that Ihad COPD. Iwas diagnosed and I've been managing the condition ever since. 

How does having COPD affect your life?

I now question long air travel and the risks involved, which changes my abilities to go away on big trips. In terms of daily like, I was always an avid outdoors person but now I find that hills while hiking are difficult. Rather than regular cycling, which I used to enjoy, I now use an electric-assisted bike. Getting sick is also a major concern: if my wife, Kate, gets ill, I have to avoid her to keep from gettting sick myself. 

I understand that you are a performing musician. Are you able to continue performing with COPD?

Yes, I still play guitar and sing as much as I can.  I have a number of acts, solo to six piece band (including one duo with my wife is called "Will & Kate").  I mostly do a duo or trio in coffee houses, senior facilities, pubs and bistros.  One thing different though is that now I can only sing one song and then need a one song break so I make sure I either do an instrumental or have someone else sing the next song.  

How does your music help your COPD?

Music helps in a number of ways: When I sing, I breathe deeply and exhale slowly, which improves my lung capacity.  It elevates my mood and makes me happy.  Being out there gigging keeps me socially active which is great for my morale.  Singing is great therapy for those living with COPD because of the positive effects of the exchange of gases in your lungs. 

What kind of exercise program do you follow?

I keep very active: almost daily bike rides, almost daily singing and guitar playing, weights every second day, walking instead of biking, swimming (not in pools) and snorkelling when in warmer climes. 

How do medications help with your condition?

I take a variety of medications, including puffers, and I feel strongly that if your meds aren't working for you, you should be willing to try something different (under your doctor's supervision only) and find whatever makes you feel best. That's what I've done, and it's helped me to stay active and keep singing. 

What advice would you give to others living with COPD?

I feel like I've learned so much about managing COPD: Do lots of things you love but don't overdo it. Pay attention to your triggers, and have your meds and puffers on hand at all times.

Get out in the fresh air and nature. Get an E-bike if you can so you can go places without overexerting yourself. 

If you have any interest, join a choir : The singing and the social interaction are both excellent for you. Attend lung fairs when you can so you can spend more one-on-one time with a respirologist, talk to others who are dealing with the disease, meet other health professionals, find out about support groups and more!

How do you feel the health system could help those living with COPD?

They could provide stand-alone respiratory centres in outlying areas to avoid having to go into a major city for treatment (especially for the ageing population).  There should be more programs for education about the disease.   

What are your future plans?

I will enjoy every day and live life to the fullest by performing, singing, spending time with my loved ones and trying not to worry too much. 

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Page Last Updated: 14/05/2020