I remember when I was first diagnosed with emphysema. I was startled by the realization that everything wasn’t okay. It didn’t take long for me to start panicking and wishing that this was happening to anyone else. I took good care of myself, so why me? I looked like the epitome of healthy; I was slender and involved in my community—always eating healthy and exercising. So how could I have a chronic disease that could hinder me for the rest of my life?
I knew what it had to be, but it was so long ago. I couldn’t believe that my childhood smoking was catching up to me. When I was young, we didn’t even know that smoking was bad; it was just what all the cool kids were doing. Not even just the cool kids, everybody was smoking. It was normal—a rite of passage. So when the doctor whispered ‘emphysema’ and handed me a prescription for PRN artificial oxygen, I was in shock.
At first, I hid away from everyone. I stopped attending my committee meetings; I gave up on trying to do something meaningful with my life. I had never heard of someone being diagnosed with emphysema at 50-years-old, but there I was, a 50-year-old woman, living with a progressive lung disease that would potentially rip away my oxygen and leave me struggling to survive. I began to spiral into a whirl of depression—at least that is what my therapist said. I stopped eating all together; gave up my typical hobbies; slept all the time, but never quite felt rested or tired. Life was miserable.
Then one day, my son came over. My family and friends had tried to be supportive when I was first diagnosed, but I was scared and I pushed them away. But this time when my son came over, it was different. He didn’t have the look of pity in his eyes. He didn’t come over with open arms and exaggerated apologies. He was angry. He was angry that I was giving everything up because of one obstacle. He was angry that it was so easy for me to shove everyone away and sulk. This time when he came over, he didn’t ask if there was anything he could; he just escorted me to the car.
When he pulled in to a local church, I had no idea what he was doing. We haven’t gone to church in years, and moreover, it wasn’t Sunday or a holiday. I didn’t really ask questions; to be honest, I was stunned. When the door opened to the church basement, I finally understood what was going on. I was going to a support group.
Initially, I was bitter—bitter that he was trying so hard; bitter that I was here; and most of all, I was bitter that this was what I needed. My opinion of support groups had always been weak people brooding in their own problems. Boy, was I wrong. Sitting in the basement of a local church, I was surrounded by people who had taken their life back. These people were empowered and passionate and ready to live.
That day was the first day of my new life with lung disease. I vowed to stop wallowing in pity and get involved in my own life. I’ve learned that maintaining a social life is just as important as any treatment. I have learned that I can still go out and have fun. While it is more difficult to be spontaneous, I can still plan ahead and have a great time. When I go to my friends and family member’s homes, I always pack an extra bag to keep in my car. After all, I never know what fun and exciting adventures are ahead for me and I want to be able to enjoy every moment I can.
I started volunteering again and getting involved at my community center. I never knew that there were so many options for getting involved with lung disease-related advocacy groups. Now I can not only help myself, but I can help others. Returning to my sociable, energetic, happy side made all the difference in my life. Not only mentally, but physically too! When I started attending the Better Breathers Club, I learned about new treatment options that have helped me breathe easier. The Lung Health Institute finally provided a new option. I was so sick of waiting and hoping for a lung transplant, and the fear that it may never happen was terrifying. Cellular therapy was the right option for me. Now going out and being active doesn’t feel so difficult and my lungs don’t feel as strained.
So thanks to my son for reminding me that being alive doesn’t mean living and that sitting on the sidelines of your own life is not an option. And thanks to the Lung Health Institute for making my active lifestyle possible. If you want to breathe easier and get more active, contact the Lung Health Institute. It may save your life too.