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Explaining COPD To Family and Friends

Most family and friends want to understand what COPD really is.  Some even stop and listen long enough to get a good idea of the symptoms, but really it is difficult to explain it all to them.

My mom talked about it to some of her friends and family, but over time, she stopped talking to most of them about it unless they opened the conversation.  Maybe it was because they didn’t want to know what it was really like, or maybe it was because they felt helpless to make things better.

I always felt that her close family and friends should know more than they did.

If I would have been given permission from my mom, this is what I would have told them:

COPD is serious.  Time may be passing without much change visibly, but that doesn’t mean that life is not difficult.  Things that are easy for those of us without this disease are incredibly difficult for those with the it.  For example just reaching up into the cabinet for a box of cereal can cause shortness of breath. Cooking a meal or taking a shower can take twice as long simply because of the number of times needed to stop and rest.

The loss of independence weighs heavy on the heart.  Things that they never thought would require help, no longer happen on their own.  From needing someone to tag along while out of the house, to dealing with the fear of not being able to breathe, to needing someone to help bathe them, each one chips away at their independence.  It doesn’t take long for them to feel that they are no longer the person that they used to be.

Anxiety increases as SOB, shortness of breath, episodes become more frequent.  Being short of breath can feel like death is near.  Then as the oxygen levels increase, emotions are raw.  Imagine having a bag over your face.  It’s not a pleasant image, is it?  Imagine the fear that will cause.  Then imagine that the bag is removed, but you know that it will happen again.  You just don’t know when.  Remember this the next time that you get frustrated with someone that you know with COPD because of their anxiety.

What you should know beyond this is that they are still alive!  They still love, still laugh and still cry.  They want to know that you will remember them beyond the disease, and most want to simply be heard.  As many times as they tell you that they don’t want to go and do things with you anymore, you should know that this eats away at them.  It’s not that they don’t want to be with you.  It is that they are dealing with so many different things.  They are wondering if they are a burden, if they will be able to keep up, and if the fears that they deal with daily are true.

These are the things that you should know about COPD.

Mom never let me get that real with any of her family and friends, but I really wish that they had known.  If they would have known this little bit of information, just the tip of the iceberg really, they would have seen her the way that I did, the most courageous woman I have ever known.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Batcavelady
    1 week ago

    Tonya, this is the first time I have seen your article and as a person with COPD this is exactly how I feel. Maybe your article should be put into a leaflet to be available at clinics and surgeries for sufferers and their families to read. It is simply but succinctly written and would, I am sure help others to understand the way people with COPD feel. Thank you.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    1 week ago

    Batcavelady – I couldn’t aggree more with your assessment of Tonya’s article. I hadn’t read it in quite a while, but as I did again, I was so impressed with the insight and perception that went into writing it. If it helped just one person understand what a loved one is going through, it’s served it’s purpose.
    – Lyn (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 week ago

    Hi Batcavelady and thanks for joining in the conversation here. As Lyn said, this article is spot on, and to think that Tonya authored it 3 1/2 years ago. I’m sure you would be able to share this with your family and friends as long as you acknowledge the material belongs to Health Union.
    Glad to hear this article resonated so clearly with you. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • Janet Plank moderator
    2 years ago

    This article speaks volumes. This is something that others can easily share with their families!


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