lungs in front of a wall with markings on it showing its growth but with all that has effected the lungs

The Story of My COPD, Part 3

Editor's note: This is part 3 of a three-part series on how Barbara developed Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Part 1 can be found here and part 2 here.

So, I was a preemie, born way too soon. My parents smoked as most everyone did back in 1956. I had undeveloped lungs and grew up in a family surrounded by smokers. In my younger years, I suffered several bouts of pneumonia and would be hospitalized many times.

Raised in Hamilton, Ontario we were a city surrounded by beautiful Lake Ontario, and home to Stelco and Dofasco, two major North American steel giants. We had a thriving port and were known as the Lunch Box City. Men here had exceptionally good jobs and made decent wages, but a by-product of steel is pollution.

Pollution inside and out

As children, it was rare to have a backyard swimming pool or air conditioning, so when humidity was high, families like mine would head down to Lake Ontario, about a twenty-minute drive. I was so little that they bought a blow-up float for me to wear around my waist. Across Beach Boulevard and along the stripe was the best amusement park for miles. But by the mid-sixties, the water was polluted, and the amusement park gone.

When I was 16, I started smoking. I cannot really say why I started except that I was probably addicted to second-hand smoke and the transition to smoking cigarettes was extremely easy. Also, I could swipe them from my mother, and I was bored. I did not just start one day but I had many days of one or two cigarettes, and it added up. Before I knew it, I was a pack a day smoker.

My first adult job was hairdressing. Chemicals, fumes, and more second-hand smoke. I did not last too long, and I was never good at it. Finally, I returned to college. I can remember walking into my college classes, grabbing an ashtray, and finding my seat. We smoked on the bus, in class, in the doctor’s office and in hospitals.

The challenge of quitting

As I was conceiving children, in the eighties, people were beginning to talk about quitting. I did too. In fact, I was a perpetual quitter. I quit smoking when I got pregnant with my daughter and I stayed off cigarettes for over 2 years. That was a lifesaver because that was when I developed a pulmonary embolism. Then, one stupid day with a girlfriend and I started smoking again.

In the nineties, I quit again but then my father died, so it was the perfect excuse to start again. I quit in the early 2000s but figured I knew I could do it so I would someday but not today. I stayed a pack a day smoker for many decades, off and on, and finally, in 2015, I quit for good.

Too little too late. The problem with having poor lung function all your life is that you get used to being compromised and you forget that it is not normal. So, I had COPD for about 8 years before I was finally diagnosed and treated. When I was diagnosed, I wondered what life would have been like if I have never started smoking or had never started again after those many times that I quit.

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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.

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