In 2005 I found out I had COPD. 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 in 2010.
How did your lung journey begin?
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. Gas emissions from all the traffic and big diesel trucks on the highway also 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 a 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.
In terms of medication, I use Spiriva and N-Acetylcisteine every day. I have some puffers but don't find they help so I rarely use them. As a natural medication, I find that it helps if when I’m winded, I sit and relax for a few minutes and am aware of my breathing.
For exercise, 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, so I go up and down ten to fifteen times per day. I take daily supplements (and have done 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 centre 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 have peer support. I have no family here, as they live in Alberta, so my friends are my support system. In Better Breathers I’ve formed new friendships with people who are there for me 100%.
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 centres and trainers in Abbotsford are free of charge. Take advantage of that!