Yvonne Milne of Abbotsford has been living with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), a type of lung disease that results in scarring of lungs. A special education teacher for 40 years, Yvonne is now retired, and an active member of Abbotsford’s Better Breathers Club. BC Lung Association’s Patient Advocate (and resident interviewer) Darcy Murdoch, a former IPF patient himself, sat down with Yvonne to talk about how she’s been living with IPF.
When did you find out you had a lung condition and what lead to your diagnosis?
In 2005 I found out I had COPD. In 2010 I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. It was difficult to breathe and I had shortness of breath. This brought me to a nuclear test of my lungs, which lead to the discovery of IPF. The nuclear test was very specific to the symptoms I was having.
I do all my exercising outside - I go for long walks, uphill walks and light jogs around an outdoor track. About 3 years ago my breathing became labored and my energy diminished. I think my symptoms became worse because of the pollution in my area. In Vancouver, the winds from the Pacific Ocean blow eastward and settle in this corridor - the Fraser Valley. As well, gas emissions from all the traffic and big diesel trucks on the highway create highly polluted air that we are breathing in Abbotsford.
How does living with IPF affect your daily life?
Despite having IPF, my condition does not limit me that much. I experience very little fatigue - sometimes after exercising and housework. When it's really cold and damp outside, I cough. I find that performing the activities of daily life moderately is the key for me.
Are you on any medication?
I use Spiriva every day. I'm also on N-Acetylcisteine daily. I have some puffers but don't find they help so I rarely use them. As a natural medication, I find that if I sit and relax for a few minutes and am aware of my breathing when I'm winded, it helps me.
What does your health and exercise program consist of?
I walk daily and do a stretching routine afterwards. I do light weights and use a resistance band. I do all my own housecleaning, including vacuuming. In my house I have a sixteen step staircase. I go up and down ten to fifteen times per day. I take daily supplements and have for 40 years.
Do you feel you have adequate care from your doctor and the health system?
Not at all. It's very difficult to find a family doctor in my area due to a shortage of general practitioners. I feel that doctors need to be better educated about chronic illnesses, specifically IPF. I have to initiate to see a specialist or make progress on my condition. I think there should be more information available for patients because if I don't seek it myself, nothing happens.
I feel that outlying areas need more programs and referrals because it's difficult for people living in these areas to get in to the big respiratory programs in Vancouver, such as those at St. Paul's and Vancouver General Hospital. I think we desperately need a respiratory center in Abbotsford.
What advice do you have for others living with IPF?
Stay active and moderate your daily life. Join a gym if you can, but be careful to know your limitations and listen to your body. Give yourself planned time to recharge and don't overdo it.
For emotional support, join a Better Breathers Group, where you can meet others with similar breathing conditions, and to have peer support.
Be proactive. Get medical advice around taking supplements, if they’re right for you. Investigate and do your homework. Eat a balanced diet and keep your weight at a good level. Think young at heart and make your choices accordingly.
Also, a tip: If you’re 80 years of age or older, all recreation centers and trainers in Abbotsford are free of charge. Take advantage of that!
Do you have a support system in your life?
I have no family here. They live in Alberta. My friends are my support system and I have formed new friendships at the Better Breathers club that I'm in .They are there for me 100%.
What does the future hold for you?
I'm moving to a smaller place, where I plan to continue with my active lifestyle and stay involved with Better Breathers.
September is Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Month. On September 21, 2018, we’re hosting our annual Pulmonary Fibrosis Patient Forum, where patients and caregivers can hear from local pulmonary fibrosis experts and patients as they discuss current research, treatments and therapies, and disease management. Check out the event page to learn more or to register for the forum.