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I photographed my mum's COPD journey

Robin is a photographer who'd never heard of COPD until his mum developed it. With her blessing, he documented her journey. 

When my mum was diagnosed, I'd never heard of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - more commonly known as COPD

I just thought it was an illness she'd have long-term. I didn't realise that at any given moment, COPD can take control of, or ruin your quality of life. 

My mum wasn't about to give up 

My mum was a proud woman. She was a single parent who'd worked extremely hard to take care of her family, and had several grandchildren she loved dearly.

She was not about to give up on life just because she had COPD. 

If her illness hadn't forced her to retire from her job at the local school, where she'd worked for 25 years, I have no doubt she'd still be on that playground today. 

Her COPD progressed

After a while, Mum's condition began to progress. She started ending up in hospital more and more often after having trouble breathing or with a chest infection. Sometimes, she'd have to stay for days, or even weeks, at a time.

I know that for years, I was in denial about her condition. But then I saw a rapid decline in her health. That was when she was in stage 4 - or as some might say, the end stage. That was when I started to really notice and started to research about COPD.

Boxing Day 2017

Boxing Day 2017 was a turning point for my family. 

I remember it was late at night. I got a phone call with the news that my mum was in the process of taking her last breaths. My family was called to go and say their goodbyes. 

But Mum wasn't ready to go yet.

Within a few hours of our arrival, she opened her eyes, and came around just enough to say: "Why are you lot here?"

And then, "I knew you would all come round to see me for Christmas."!

It wasn’t until March 23, nearly 3 months later, when our mum, sister, grandma, nan, auntie and friend to many passed.

Her final breaths

Before she went, I asked my mum if she could write down a few words on her COPD, and how it felt. I'm a photographer, and with her blessing, I shot some portraits of her throughout the illness. 

"Years ago, when I saw the doctor, she told me I'd end up with COPD if I didn't pack in smoking. But I thought it was just jargon to get me to stop. Even though I wanted to, I couldn't do it, and I thought I never could.

True to what they said, I got COPD. 

I wouldn't wish this disease on my worst enemy. The suffering isn't painful, but not being able to breathe is scary and causes me a lot of anxiety. I have emphysema, bronchitis, and Pseudomonas. My exacerbations land me in hospital.

Every time I have a chest infection, my breathing gets worse. When the end comes, I've asked for no resuscitation, because I don't want any more of this. I packed in smoking 10 years ago, but it still got me. 

You don't have to let it get you."

I hope people take notice of this horrible illness. Smoking can cause many illnesses and most that people know about but I feel COPD sometimes goes under the radar, and people don’t want to know about it. 

After seeing how COPD destroyed my mum due to years of smoking I feel it’s important to share her words she had written a few months before her passing and some portraits. 

Hopefully, it will help people think about stopping smoking. The younger generation will probably think this does not apply to them but the longer they smoke the more chance of an illness like COPD catching up with them later on in life.

Through all her years of COPD and related illnesses, my mum always put her family first, and gave her grandchildren the happiest memories that will be with them for a very long time.

She was an amazing and inspirational woman and so many were lucky to have my mum in their lives.

Janet Pope 1947-2018

World COPD Day 2018

With your help, we can continue to support people living with lung conditions like Robin's mum with our online information, our helpline and our support groups. Donate now

Do you have a story to tell? It could be about your lung condition, a friend or relative you know who lives with one, or how caring for them impacts your life. We'd love to hear what you've got to say!

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19 November 2018