‘I won’t let having chronic lung disease rule my life’

Dec 08, 2019
Fran won't let COPD stop her from living a full life. Source: Stock Image/Getty Images

When you have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) it affects every part of your life from the minute you wake in the morning until you go to sleep at night. There is no cure and there is no worse feeling than when you can’t breathe properly. It doesn’t matter how you got it, but around one in seven Australians over the age of 40 have some form of it (along with millions of people worldwide). It is one of the leading causes of death in the world.

Nobody seems comfortable in saying they have it and many won’t discuss it. Others, who don’t have it, are quick to judge those who do and very little sympathy is given. It used to shorten your lifespan by many years. The research that does get done on this disease, is done quietly. The sad thing is our generation, the Baby Boomer generation, is the generation that suffers the most with this illness.

I have COPD. My lungs only work at 60 per cent of their capacity. I know others who have it a lot worse than me; I am lucky. I have a doctor who does everything to keep me healthy. I decided years ago, when I was first diagnosed, this was not going to stop me from living a full life. There were times at first when depression got the better of me, but not now.

Today, I walked a track that is downhill all the way. The trouble with that is it’s uphill all the way back, but like the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady did the trick. I just kept saying to myself, “it’s just around the corner”. Finally it was just around the corner and the experience of the day; walking down to a waterfall and back was worth every breath.

I have often wondered why people are afraid to say they have COPD, but I guess there is a stigma attached. It seems that eventually 85 per cent of people who have smoked or do smoke, will get a COPD-related illness. I was diagnosed seven years ago, but apparently the damage started a long time ago. I used to smoke. It has been 18 years since I put a cigarette to my lips, but still I suffer. I am sure I’d be nearly dead now if I hadn’t given up smoking when I did.

I have come to the conclusion that COPD and me come hand-in-hand. Nobody knows if I got it from smoking, from other factors or all factors that can cause it, but I am not going to let others say things like, “it’s your own fault” anymore, without fighting back. I am a person with an illness that anyone can get. If you have ever been really out of breath, I mean really out of breath, times that by 100 and think how it must be for me and others like me just to go for a short walk.

I research everything and nag my doctor constantly to look for research programs I can participate in. I do what she says and have my flu injections and my pneumonia injections. I am careful to act quickly, even just for a small chest cold. I exercise every single day, even if it’s just a small amount.

I am 66 years old and I have COPD. I am not going to let it end my life. I am going to keep fighting, to encourage others to fight, to push for more research, because I deserve the same consideration as anyone who has a life threatening illness. To those who have COPD and are afraid to say it, speak out, fight to be heard and push for more research. To those who think they have it, see your doctor, and throw out those cigarettes, push yourself to exercise, no matter how small or how few steps you take and never give up. As for me, I am going to push myself to walk to that waterfall, to walk along the beach, to keep breathing. There is a cure … it’s just around the corner.

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Do you or does someone you know suffer with COPD? What impact has the disease had?

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