In my last blog we talked about COPD- what it is, if you could be at risk, and how to find out if you have it. So, let's say that you have, indeed, been diagnosed with COPD and are among the estimated 12 million other folks who have. Before we go on from here, you must know that you're already a step ahead of the others who have COPD and don't even know it! So, okay, you have it. If you need to, take a little time to go off by yourself and lick your wounds, maybe even throw a little pity party for yourself. That's okay - and normal. But whatever you do, make that pity party brief. Don't let it go on and on. You owe it to yourself and those around you to pick yourself up and take what I call "First Steps." (adapted from my website, breathingbetterlivingwell.com )
Step 1.) Don't Give Up!
The first thing is: DON'T GIVE UP! You are certainly not alone! Your best weapons to fight this disease are education, exercise, support, and a positive attitude. You can live a long time with COPD.
Step 2.) Find The Right Physician
People with COPD must have the right physician.
Does my doctor listen carefully to me, my symptoms, and family history before giving an opinion or diagnosis?
Does my doctor encourage me to take an active role in the management of my health? Is he or she willing to be my partner in helping me breathe better and live as well as possible?
Does my doctor tell me about my lung function numbers, trusting that I can understand the basic information?
Does my doctor know about the latest in approved treatments, procedures, and breathing medications and their side effects - and if he or she doesn't, is he or she willing to refer me to someone who does?
Does my doctor recognize the value of pulmonary rehabilitation for the treatment of lung disease?
Does he or she realize that there is more to pulmonary disease management than sitting at home because "it is only going to get worse?"
If you answered "yes" to these questions, you have a keeper! If you answered "no" to any of them, consider looking further. Remember, you're the customer and you hire your doctor. Of course, you must do your part in complying with what your doctor tells you to do. The best doctor in the world cannot help you if you don't keep appointments, follow instructions,
and take medicines as directed.
Step 3.) Get into a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program
Pulmonary Rehabilitation is a program of exercise and education especially designed for people with COPD. In pulmonary rehab you'll gain strength, stamina, and flexibility and learn a lot about your lungs and how to stay as healthy as possible. You'll learn about proper breathing techniques, pacing, conserving precious energy, proper nutrition, relaxation, effective use of medications, and more....You'll also find new friends, plenty of support, and have fun! If your doctor or the respiratory staff at your local hospital doesn't know where the nearest Pulmonary Rehab program is located, contact the AACVPR (American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation) by visiting the AACVPR website.
Step 4.) Be Informed
Take control of your life by becoming educated about what's going on in your lungs. Ask questions of your health care professionals. Make sure you're using correct breathing and inhaler techniques to know you're gaining as much benefit from them as possible. Be skeptical of treatments or other remedies that claim to cure your disease - ask your doctor or respiratory therapist about them.If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! No matter how much you know, there is always something new you can learn! People with COPD who seek information and learn from it do far better than those who stick their heads in the sand!
Step 5.) Stay Involved
Did you know that isolation can actually cause further illness? It can also decrease your immune system and lead to depression. No, you can't expect your family and friends to completely understand what you're going through, but with your help, they can begin to learn. Tell them what you're doing to help yourself. Get out there and socialize! It might take some extra effort, but make plans to go out regularly; to dinner, to your child or grandchild's school program, or even for a ride in the car. Feeling self-conscious about wearing your oxygen? Would you expect someone who needs glasses to drive without them? Of course not! If you need supplemental oxygen, wear it. You'll breathe easier and live longer. If somebody has a problem with you wearing oxygen, it's their problem - not yours. You're just taking care of your health the best you can.
Step 6.) Reach Out
When I was writing my book, Breathe Better, Live in Wellness, I asked pulmonary patients this question. "If you could say one thing to somebody with lung disease who is about to give up, what would you say?" Answers ranged from, "You don't give up. You just fight," to
"Do not let it get the best of you," to "Go to the classes. You'll find people to encourage you," and somebody even said, simply, "Keep breathing." But one person, a lady with really severe lung disease said, "Do something to help somebody." Her response blew me away. This kind of answer, well...I never saw it coming. It was definitely one of those "aha" moments for me, and one that has not only shaped my thinking about living with COPD - or any chronic disease, for that matter - but moreover revealed itself as method of success a thousand times over in people who have COPD. Even if you're short of breath, there are many things you can do to help yourself by helping others, and we'll talk about that another time.
So, if you've been diagnosed with COPD, take a look at these first steps. They're a good start to understanding what you're dealing with and getting on with your life. We'll be talking more about each of these steps in blogs to come. You can be sure of this: Once you grab this monster by the horns, demystify it, and control it, you can have a richer, fuller life, and at the same time make the world a better place. You can breathe easier and feel better if you face your challenges with the right information and a positive attitude. Remember - you are not alone. You're in good company with many wise and courageous people. Together, you can live well with COPD.