My motto is 'there's life after diagnosis'
At first, Deborah was terrified by her COPD diagnosis. But after attending pulmonary rehab, she's proving her motto true wherever she can: that there's life after diagnosis.
I was diagnosed with COPD on 6 June 2016. I’d had a bad chest infection for weeks, but the antibiotics hadn’t helped.
I was rushed to the hospital. I remember my feet were so swollen that I couldn’t see my toes.
I spent the first night in intensive care, and then 2 weeks in the high dependency unit.
Afterwards, I had a lung function test and an echocardiogram, and was diagnosed with severe COPD and emphysema.
I was offered surgery, to have mesh on my lungs, or the possibility of a partial lung removal. But mentally, I know I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it.
I’d dropped to 6 stone. I felt so weak.
I thought I was going to die
My diagnosis came as a total shock to me. I really thought it was the end of my life, and that I had no future, and that when I went home, I would die. My time in the hospital left me with PTSD, I was so sure it was the end for me.
I was so frightened.
Luckily, where I live in Wales has a very good support network. They told me about pulmonary rehabilitation, and the team and the physio started to visit me in my home, where I lived on the first floor.
We started, gradually, to build up my muscles, and recover my strength with exercises. Then after a few months of working at home, I started the pulmonary rehab programme.
Starting pulmonary rehab
I found pulmonary rehab absolutely fantastic. I loved every bit of it, even though it was very emotional for me. It was so good to be around other people who understood, who have similar problems and understand how frustrating it can be.
Sometimes, I’d be training on the exercise bike fine, and then 60 seconds later might burst into tears! But the nurse or physio would always be there for me. It was so great to have someone supportive around.
It gave me such a boost
Going improved my breathing a lot, and now I exercise in the house 5 days a week. I have my dumbells and my exercise bike, and I love it. It gives me a real physical boost. If you don’t exercise your lungs by expanding them, they won’t work as well.
It was so good to be around other people who understood, who have similar problems and understand how frustrating it can be.
But mentally it gives you such a boost as well. Feeling like I had no control was the worst part. You couldn’t get up and walk away from it. I couldn’t even get out of bed.
Now I'm feeling better
I've become quite active about my lung condition! I work with medical students in the hospital who are learning to diagnose COPD and volunteer with my local Citizens Advice Bureau.
I run a webpage called "Living with COPD Debz Rosenthal's Story". There's also my online support group for people with COPD with nearly 150 members. Although we swap tips and talk about our lung conditions, it’s also quite light-hearted.
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I want people to know that having COPD isn’t all doom and gloom. You’ve got to laugh sometimes! You really do.
I’m still adapting
Sometimes it’s very frustrating of course, and I have good days and bad days. If there are places I need to get to, and I can’t use the bus, I have to use my wheelchair. But it’s very hilly where I live, so I have to get my husband to push me.
I was only diagnosed in 2016, so I’m still learning to adapt, like if I climb the stairs, I know I’ll have to stop. But I accept even though COPD is a part of my life now, it doesn’t control it.
Most of all, you have to believe in yourself.
There’s life after diagnosis
I’m so glad I did pulmonary rehab. If you have COPD, attending pulmonary rehab is a 100% must. It might be hard, but if you start off really gradually, and slowly build yourself up, you’ll be amazing.
Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions of your doctor or physios as you need to feel comfortable. Unless you ask, you’ll never know!
And most of all, you have to believe in yourself. If you don’t, you won’t get through it. And it is possible - it really is possible.
My motto is that there’s life after diagnosis. And there is!
We're making breakthroughs in COPD research
Jonathan's team is experimenting with cells taken from people with COPD.