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Managing my COPD: Vanessa's story

Vanessa shares how she gained a new lease of life by learning to manage her COPD.

Vanessa Smith great north run walking Photo: Marathon Photos

Seven years ago I could barely walk. Brushing my hair was a struggle. Now, I've just completed a half marathon (that's me on the right in the photo).

I was just 53 when I found out I had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Like many people with this condition, I 'd seen my GP many times and been told I simply had a chest infection. But I became tired all the time and felt very weak.

Getting a diagnosis

I'd lost faith in my doctor and so, sadly, I didn't go again until things got really bad. When I finally did return, I saw a new GP - and found out I had COPD.

I was told this was pretty serious and that I needed to have a conversation with my family. I refused to do so until I had stopped smoking. There was no way I could tell my children while I still smoked - I felt that would be too cruel.

When I did tell them the news, their reactions were a mixture of shock, sadness and well hidden anger. But they also sprang into action, they wanted to help.

Planning for the future

Vanessa improves her life with COPD

There was a time in the early days when I had to face the fact that I might not be around to see my daughter reach adulthood. I decided I could not let that happen and have fought hard for my health ever since. I took stock of my life and drew up a master plan for managing my condition.

I moved from a pretty but isolated fishing village to a tiny bungalow in town with all the facilities I need close by. I thought about my funeral and things like life support. Then I got on with living.

My son got me set up on the internet, and within weeks I'd learned that there was lots of care available for people with COPD. I asked my GP about pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a programme of exercise and education about how to manage COPD every day.

During PR I was assessed for oxygen therapy. Once it was delivered I was straight on the treadmill - and I walked for 30 seconds.

Nothing to lose, everything to gain

Over time both my walking distance and my health improved beyond anything I had expected. A couple of years ago I started swimming at my local pool as well as adding fun challenges to the mix - like braving the zip wire at the local Adrenalin Quarry. And this year I found myself within a crowd of almost 60,000 at the starting line of the Great North Run.

I was so proud, I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. Running was impossible, but I walked the whole 13.1 mile course. COPD nurse Deborah volunteered to join me and push my oxygen around the course.

My tips

Here's some advice I would share with other people going through an experience like mine.

  • Exercise is such good medicine for those of us with COPD. Never underestimate what it can do for you. If you can only manage a few steps that's fine - just make sure you do them as often and as regularly as you can and soon you will be surprising yourself.
  • Ask your GP or nurse about pulmonary rehabilitation, it's a great place to start and can teach you helpful techniques such as pursed lip breathing to help with shortness of breath.
  • Make use of everything that is on offer to help you. Contact the BLF and ask about their self-management products and exercise DVDs.
  • There is so much information out there and people want to help so never be afraid to ask.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Want to improve your quality of life with a lung condition? Get started with our range of self-management products.


I also have been diagnosed with COPD and always travel with emergency medication. Excersise yes and happy mental attitude . 73 and ready to go anytime but not sitting waiting for it to happen. I am a happy helper at the Russagh Mill Hostel and adventure centre its great
Interesting read, such an inspiration, taking account of things and turning a negative into a positive, well done to you. David
Vanessa story very much matched my own circumstances. I also am 53 and have been diagnosed with COPD (severe stage). I find it difficult to plan anything as my mobility is literally 3 or 4 paces on a GOOD day! I've used the supermarket wheelie chairs and also been pushed about my town centre in a regular wheelchair. It's no fun believe me. So when I was offered to start a Pulmonary Rehab course this month,I immediately said yes. VANESSA'S story was proof just what these courses can do for you - so bring it on. I'm ready to gain control of my life again.
I absolutely love this. I have been diagnosed with COPD 2 years ago. I live a full life. I walk at least 1000 steps a day. When  i am not in a flare up. I am aiming to walk city to surf. (This is a 14kl walk which is mostly uphill). I so believe we must exercise and push ourselfs  as much as posible .
Great story Vanessa!! Continue your positive approach to managing your COPD . Quite inspirational!  Patrick ( from the colonies!)

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11 November 2015