Managing my COPD: Vanessa's story
Vanessa shares how she gained a new lease of life by learning to manage her COPD.
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
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.
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!
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