Meet Sara Troy, a podcaster and producer from the UK who now lives in Esquimalt, BC. Sara has lived with asthma for her whole life, and spoke with BC Lung Patient Advocate Darcy Murdoch about how she's learned to know her limits and take care of herself by enforcing her boundaries.
(Editor's note: Sara refers to an "asthma pump," which is the UK term for a puffer.)
Where do you live, what do you do, and what is your age?
I’m 63 young, I live in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, and I own and operate a podcast video network. I interview people who are making a difference in the world, in the lives of others. So, people all over the world, who have embraced their journey, their struggles, and who decided to embrace life and now be of service to others by sharing that knowledge and wisdom that they’ve learned.
What lung disease do you live with?
I’ve been an asthmatic since the age of 2, when Asian flu went around England and I ended up with asthma. I was a very healthy, plump happy baby before then. It apparently came from my father's side. Everybody obviously thinks you out-grow it, but I never did. So I've been an asthmatic for 61 years.
How does that impact your daily life?
I had to live my life with limitations -- the things I can and cannot do -- you know, avoid hills, I can't run, certainly air is going to have an effect on me. Walking past The Body Shop for one, and all the fumes coming from there. But it's just knowing your limitations and it can be frustrating, but at the same time, if you don't and you get into an asthma attack, that is more frustrating.
Are you on medication of any kind?
I'm on Ventolin and I have been since I was 14. Ventolin only, because I know how to monitor myself with it. Before I do a show, I always take a puff to make sure my lungs have got extra power, but I can still run out of air during a show. Always before I go to bed, and I always carry one around with me in case -- I know when I am reacting to something, so I can take it and use it as a preventative as well as when I get into an attack.
Were you ever on oxygen?
Yes, when I would go into hospitals and things like that, they'd have me on oxygen. Not at home though.
That's a good thing. I was on oxygen for 3 and a half years while I was waiting for my transplant, not 24-hours a day, but whenever I was walking or exercising I had to be on it, and it saved my skin. It took me a while to get used to it because there's a stigma that goes along with it. I'd walk outside with my nose plugs, and people would stop and stare. I remember one day, a woman came up to me and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I'm going to go to my church group and we're going to pray for you." I'd never met her before. I certainly got a lot of looks, that's for sure.
And they kind of knew something was wrong with you, whereas with me, I'd say, "I can't do..." and people will look at me and say, "Well, why not? You look perfectly healthy."
I'd say, "This is my limitation," and they'd say, "Well, push yourself through it!" I know my limitations. I've been with my body a long time. I know what I can and cannot do, and I also know what price I'm willing to pay.
It sounds like there was a little bit of bullying going on there, back in the day?
Oh yes, and it still happens. People still expect you to do, and it's, "Sorry, I can't. Sorry, I won't." That's it.
Do you feel you have adequate care from your doctor and the health system?
Yes. I mean, they tried to put me on the generic pump, but that didn't work for me -- it literally didn't work. I think I've been on Ventolin for far too long, 40 years now, but I think it's because I'm just so used to being on it.
I'll tell you one thing that really did help was that I found an allergist, that is, looking at biorhythms and resetting your body, and she did a whole complete cleanse of things I was allergic to. I used to not be able to be in a house with cat, I'd be wheezing and getting to a point where I wouldn't be able to breathe, but after working with the allergist, I think it boosted my immune system. So now I can be around cats and dogs, and that really was a god send. I didn't realize the impact of it -- there's so much more I can be subject to now without a reaction.
What about other things? Are you allergic to pollen, and dander and dust?
Dust? Yes. Certain pollens and dander - the seasonal stuff. I would actually say, my skin reacts more than my asthma. Certain chemicals and things. You have to be careful.
What about last year when the forest fires were taking over the province, with the particulate in the air?
Yeah, the smoke definitely was a problem. I was in Port Coquitlam, and you could really start feeling it there. I tried to avoid going out, and taking my pump, making sure I was being preventative. It's not worth jeopardizing your health.
It's true - people don't realize that the smoke actually has those fine particles of wood and it can get into your lungs and give you a problem. Do you have any advice for others living with asthma, on how to deal and lead a normal life?
I would say, go get tested with your allergies, because if they can help clear some up for you. I've done the prick test several time but this other way with the allergist I found to be more effective. It's helped a lot, because a lot of the problem with asthma is that I'm so sensitive to so many things that it aggravated the asthma. So if you take away some of those other sensitivities, it helps to let you just look after the asthma.
The other thing is knowing your limits - don't push yourself beyond what you know you can do. Never leave home, anytime, anywhere without your apparatus. I have 3 - one by my desk, one by my bed, and even if I'm just going out for five minutes, that pump has to be with me. It takes only one attack.
I don't go anywhere without it -- even when my kids were young, they knew that if mum started having an asthma attack, to run to the bedroom to get the asthma pump.
Are you able to exercise at all?
Again, my limitations. I go for walks, as long as it's flat -- no hills -- and I watch the air quality. No running, obviously. Biking, again, as long as it's flat. Swimming, I love. Swimming is really good for me, because I find it opens up the lungs and I can do way more in the water.
Do you feel there's anything missing in BC's health care system for asthma sufferers?
I would love to see more prevention. I wish they would look to other alternative ways of healing, like with the allergies, and not stick to the same old thing.
I think it's being open, not just being restricted to one channel -- being open to alternatives and things like acupuncture, anything that can help relax the body, because as you know, anytime you get tense, it tightens the body.
Sleeping better, relaxing better. It's not always looking to drugs, because there are other alternatives that can be so much more sustainable and longer lasting than just a drug. That's a problem with the medical system -- it's always treating the symptom, rather than realizing that there's a whole body, rather than just the lungs, and rather than just putting a band aid on, there are many reasons for something and we need to go deeper and treat the whole body.
Have you seen a respirologist here in BC?
No, actually, I don't. If I'm having a bad bout, my doctor has an ongoing prescription with him for my pumps, and though I've seen lung specialists, but my asthma is pretty well under control, because I don't put myself in environments or do things that I know will aggravate it. I know to stop and rest, and rejuvenate, and pace myself.
It sounds like you're a perfect example of someone who manages to live with asthma because you know your limitations.
Knowing your limitations, understanding that everyone has health challenges along the way, it's not letting it define you - I am not asthma. I happen to have asthma, and yet I can still live a very productive life. I’ve just got to know my triggers, my limitations, and live within those parameters. I can't go at the same speed as other people, I can't do what other people do, but that's their journey and this is mine.
It doesn't mean I'm crippled by it. I am limited. But I can still go and do things that I can enjoy in life. I seek to do things more abundantly in some areas that I am lacking in other areas. So you learn to pace yourself, to live within your limitations, and you can still have a very good life, but it won't be defined by my labels of health. Those are just my challenges in life. If I live and I honor my body and my parameters in life, then I still can get out and be productive. Most of my productivity is online, not physical, but I still consider it very productive.
I can see that you have a very positive attitude as well, which goes a long way.
Why not? I know my limitations, but I can still live abundantly in other areas. I still get those times where you feel, "Why now?" Those down days, especially if you're in pain, but I think that's just the time for love and nurture for yourself and to honor your body and do what it needs to rejuvenate.
Find something that you love to do. For me, it’s music: listening to music is very calming and soothing for me, switching off from the world, and finding that something that takes you to that center space where you can re-group.
Is there anything else in life that you embrace?
I love to dance, though I don't know - because I'm 63 with fibromyalgia, which has become another health issue, the asthma is just another thing that there, I'd say I'm more limited now by the fibromyalgia than the asthma, but I love to dance. I love to really get out and enjoy life. Sometimes it's frustrating when I cannot do as much as I used to do, and that is aggravating.
I want to get out and do things, but I can't because my batteries run out too quickly, but I think again, it's know your triggers: pollen, scents, don't get over-stressed, because those exacerbate the asthma.
Watch your anxiety, your stress level, do activities that calm you, even if it means switching off from the rest of the world. That's something that others are just going to have to understand, and if they don't, I'm afraid that that's their problem. Don't let it be yours. You can still get out and enjoy life while you know your triggers
You'll have good days where you can do a lot more than you thought you could, and you'll really enjoy it! But that might means that the next couple of days you'll need a bit more downtime, in order to regroup. Just go with that flow.
What does the future hold for you, and your condition?
Since the allergy testing, it's been better. The fibromyalgia is my nemesis at the moment, and there are things that I’m trying to deal with it. But my lungs are all right now, and if I maintain this level as I get older, then I'm in control and I don't let it control me.
I hope it doesn't get worse, because in fact it has got better in the last few years. I still get triggers, still get out of breath, but it's know when to push yourself. You can still have a very productive life, you’ve just got to know those limitations, those triggers, and how to honor your body.