I was 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. After some testing, I was diagnosed with COPD and I've been managing the condition ever since.
How does having COPD affect your life?
I question long air travel and the risks involved in a way I didn’t used to. It can be challenging when assessing whether I should go away on big trips. In terms of daily life, 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 getting sick myself.
I’m a musician and I still play guitar and sing as much as I can. One thing that’s changed is that now I can only sing one song and then need a one song break. I make sure I either do an instrumental or have someone else sing the next song. But I still have a number of acts, solo to six piece band (including one duo with my wife, called "Will & Kate"). I mostly do a duo or trio in coffee houses, senior facilities, pubs and bistros.
Music helps me 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 also 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 else do you do to manage your COPD?
I keep very active. Almost daily, I bike ride and walk if I don’t. I do weights every second day. I swim (not in pools) and snorkel when in warmer climes.
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 be careful not to 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 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 also 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.