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Spreading the word in Southend

Suzanne joins Breathe Easy Southend for their breathlessness awareness event.

Until I joined the BLF, I had no idea that breathlessness was such an important symptom for all sorts of lung conditions. We often hear about asthma and lung cancer in the newspapers and on TV, but other conditions such as IPF, mesothelioma, and COPD are not often given the same attention in the media.

Getting out of breath can be an early symptom of all of these conditions. And an early diagnosis can make a huge difference. It’s really important that people visit their GP as soon as the notice they are getting out of breath more often than they normally would.

Breathlessness was the main focus of this year’s Breathe Easy Week. So, curious to find out more, I returned to my hometown of Southend-on-Sea to join an awareness event being held by the local support group. I was keen to hear first-hand about peoples’ experiences of getting out of breath and lung conditions, and to see the impact of Breathe Easy Week events in the community.

The group set up their stand near the exit of their local supermarket. It was a typical English summer day outside – grey and drizzly! – so people were very happy to chat and find out more before heading out to the wet ‘n’ windy car park.

I asked Norman, the chair of Breathe Easy Southend, when he first noticed he was getting out of breath. He explained that it first affected him at work, and slowly started to cause issues in other parts of his life. He went to his doctor for diagnosis and was referred to pulmonary rehabilitation as part of his treatment, which he found really helped.

It was here that he also first found out about Breathe Easy. He’s been part of the support group for a few years and is very passionate about the work they do.

Norman and the group were well-prepared and brought along lots of information to share with the public, including a stand full of our health leaflets, a fantastic newsletter and flyers with the group’s contact details.

There were leaflets for a local exercise class for people with lung conditions, and Norman explained that they also had close links with the local hospital and health care professionals who spent a lot of time working with the group.

We had lots of interest in the stand, and people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities came over to pick up information, donate their spare change and share their stories. Most people who donated told us about family members who were affected by lung conditions – aunts, sisters, fathers and friends.

Lots of people talked about COPD and asthma, but some people also mentioned relatives who were affected by asbestos and other work-related conditions. However, there were people who weren’t keen to talk to us at all.

When we said a cheery “Hello!” we were met immediately with “No, I don’t smoke!” Dee, another member of Breathe Easy Southend, explained it well: “It’s a big problem – people think that their lung health is only an issue if they are smokers.”

Thankfully, one of the big benefits of Breathe Easy Week is that it’s a great time to change those perceptions. We were able to explain to people that lung conditions can affect anyone and that it is still really important to be aware of any symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or being short of breath.

I left really impressed by the time, energy and passion the Breathe Easy members put into the group and their event, all entirely voluntarily. The donation tins were both full by the end of the awareness event and it felt like we had made a real impact on the people who visited the stand that day.

Of course, this wasn't the only event to take place this week. Groups all over the UK have been working hard to get the word out and raise funds for the BLF. If one event had so much impact, just think of how much success we've had with all the other events too!

As someone who is normally in the office working behind-the-scenes, I felt really grateful to get the chance to see the work of the public face of the BLF. I know that all of us here want to say a great big “thank you!” to everyone who has taken part and supported Breathe Easy Week this year.

If you or a loved one are affected by a lung condition, you can join one of our Breathe Easy support groups. Search for your local group online or call our helpline for more information.

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20 June 2014