Patient Blogs | COPD
I’m Coming to Terms With My COPD
photo of doctor explaining lung x-ray to patient

Do you have a health condition that you’ve been neglecting? I know I'm not alone here. Millions of us, for whatever reasons, make the choice to not visit a doctor or give much attention to a health condition that perhaps we don't want to confront.

I've been living with COPD for 10 or 15 years and only just realizing that I've come to terms with it by not coming to terms with it at all. What I mean by that is: I thought I had come to terms with it. I go to all my appointments; I take my breathing treatments; I do everything I'm supposed to do. But otherwise I try to ignore the fact that I have COPD.

And for most, I'm sure that would sound like the goal, right? Treat it, take care of yourself, and forget it? But is that really all we're supposed to do? As a health care advocate, I know the importance of research, asking questions, and full involvement with your doctor concerning your treatment. I understand the benefits of connecting with others who also live with the same condition, but most of all the importance of coming to terms with your condition yourself. Part of coming to terms with your condition means educating yourself about it to protect yourself from further damage to your health.

I think it's because it scares me that I haven't really come to terms with it. I remember being in the hospital with a lung infection, feeling almost completely unable to breathe. There's nothing scarier than being surrounded by a world full of air yet none of it is for you. I would draw as deep a breath as I could, but, like a fish out of water, feel no satiation. I didn't think I was going to leave that hospital. I've rarely been so terrified.

I guess the trauma of that experience caused me to try to avoid my condition. I know that doesn't make sense, but when have we as humans allowed good sense to get in our way? But the truth is, you can't truly treat your condition until you've first come to terms with it, and that means more than just making your appointments and taking your meds. I want to know what things I need to look out for in the future; what could I be putting myself at risk for by certain actions or inaction. I think when we accept our condition, we're more likely to remain aware of its facts and face the uncomfortable realities that accompany it. And for many of us living with COPD, that means confronting something we absolutely DO NOT want to take on: our smoking or vaping.

I quit smoking cigarettes over 8 years ago, but I traded it for vaping. I thought it was gentler on my lungs, and my breathing did improve, but now we're starting to learn that it's not such a good idea. This is the vice that gave some of us COPD to begin with, so it's deeply rooted and often has psychological and emotional connections. In any case, it can be really hard to quit. I know I've held onto mine like an old friend.

I started smoking at 10 years old in a time when everyone smoked. It's hard to imagine my life without it. And maybe that's another reason why I haven't yet fully come to terms with my COPD, because I know that means having to confront my nicotine use, and to be honest, I haven't wanted to do that.

Now that I've come to realize how much I actually haven’t come to terms with my COPD, I think it's time to have a serious conversation with my doctor about it and see if we can come up with a plan to really take these issues on. It's time that I stop ignoring my fears and protecting a lifelong habit, it's time I start to really research this condition and fully educate myself and understand it. It's time that I finally come to terms with COPD, because that's where the healing truly begins.



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Katie Willingham

Katie Willingham

Diagnosed since 2016

Katie Adsila Willingham is an HIV advocate from rural north Alabama who has been living with COPD for 15 years. After years focusing primarily on her HIV diagnosis, Willingham is embarking on a journey to better manage her COPD. She blogs for The Well Project's A Girl Like Me, is the Alabama state lead for the Positive Women's Network USA, and is a U=U ambassador with the Prevention Access Campaign.

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