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The Time I Smoked…with COPD

I have a lifelong claim to lung illness. First, I had whooping cough as a baby that severely damaged my lungs. Then in my 20’s, a short time after working in a bus garage that emitted huge amounts of diesel fumesm I had sarcoidosis, damaging my lungs further. Further damage may have been done by the London smogs in the 1950’s. Then despite the damage I acquired a 25 a day cigarette habit.

I started smoking in the days before we knew how dangerous smoking was 

Everyone around me seemed to smoke – so I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I was diagnosed with COPD in 1987. After which my doctor told me bluntly I had COPD. Gave me an inhaler, and no information. Heck, I did not even know it was progressive. Nor was I told that smoking would make that progression faster – and also cause far more lung-changing bronchitis episodes, and worsening emphysema. We had no education, and did not have the internet in them days to research with.

My smokers cough became worse with time, until everyone, even the neighbors knew when I was at home by the sound of my coughing. Worse still – my breathing became harder, and I was short of breath on even the slightest of inclines. Alarm bells rang. I knew I had to stop smoking. Even though I was the king of quitters. Having tried, and failed so many times to quit the killer weed.

I just never believed I would ever be able to quit.

My COPD progressed at an ever-faster rate. After a time, my cough was so hacking I wondered if the stress and pressure of coughing would cause a heart attack, or break a rib. More worrying I started to become dizzy when coughing. Until this became a crisis when twice I woke coughing in my bed. Sat at the side, coughed some more, and passed out. I damaged my head as I fell on the little bedside cabinet before hitting the floor. My wife screamed thinking I had dropped dead. But still I continued to smoke. Damaging my weakened lungs further. A doctor said if I did not stop smoking then and now, and stay off the smokes, I would have respiratory failure before the age of 70 years. But for a while still I smoked.

The crunch was when we went on a short holiday in the west of England. We were at a holiday camp self-catering. That required walking to the dining hall. The entertainment hall was also a very short walk away. The problem was we arrived. I smoked. Had a bad chest – and could walk no further than ten paces before stopping to get breath. Not for a short period, but several minutes each pause. That in my mind is the worse holiday we have ever had due to the pain of walking. I knew then. I had to stop smoking or face a horrible death in the not too distant future. I was suffocating.

I thought of my family. How I was failing them by continuing to smoke.

Knowing that if I did not quit, in perhaps a very short time smoking would kill me. I imagined my wife at my funeral. Along with others of my loved ones, my grandchildren. I imagined their grief – and how my death could have been avoided. I imagined it so hard – I was in that place. I knew I was dying.

At that point I decided to quit not for me – but my family and loved ones. Amazingly with my powerful thoughts I found it incredibly easy to quit smoking. I did not quit for the fear of dying, even knowing what a horrible death that would be. But for the sorrow that I would leave behind for the sake of smoking ‘one more cigarette’.

Every time I thought of having a smoke I would think of my funeral, my loved ones. How I was letting them down. That was now more than ten years ago, and do not crave a smoke anymore. I – the king of quitters – had finally quit. Not only that I will be 70-year-old this year. I am sure the doctor was right, that had I not quit I would have been gone long ago.

When I quit my lung function was 23%, and worsening.

Now after more than a decade I have managed to stay steady and stop the decline in FEV1. Most of all I have far fewer infections. My cough has long gone – and I do not pass out anymore due to low oxygen levels.

I do use oxygen for all mobility now as sadly gas exchange is worse – lungs don’t get better, but the decline is very slow. My regret is I did not pack in smoking earlier. If I had I might not use oxygen therapy now – nor be disabled by COPD. I am telling you my story so that smokers reading this can make an informed choice, not only for yourself, but your family too. Since I quit all smoking members of my family have quit too. Yes, not one in my family smokes. I am incredibly proud of them. Showing how easy when we put our mind to it we can quit.

I am now involved in COPD education and one aim it to show how quitting can not only save your life – but also offer a better quality of life, and a much longer one too. If to quit or not is personal choice. However, if you are a smoker I hope you do decide to throw them packs away. To breathe easier and have a better life for quitting too.

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.


  • Queenie in york
    3 months ago

    I just read your article about your smoking and how you quit.
    I smoked for forty five years and grew up in a house where everyone smoked in the home.
    I now have stage four copd and had to make up my mind to quit.June 5th will be one year since I quit I’m very proud of myself as I’ve tried to quit so very many times before.It took a lot of tubs of ice cream and chocolate bars but I did it!

  • michelle.vincent moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi Queenie in York,

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. Congratulations on being smoke-free for a year! That is really something to celebrate. Maybe with ice cream and a chocolate bar.

    take care,
    Michelle (site moderator)

  • voni7
    5 months ago

    Thank you for this article. I am new to this or any forum on COPD although I have been treated for it for 5 years and continue to smoke. I was told a month ago that I had less than 25% lung capacity left and kept smoking…..I had a severe attack or something and decided to look up this online. After reading this article I think maybe I can finally do it. I am going to get some patches tomorrow, as they seemed to work the last time I quit for a month, four years ago. Wish me luck. I hate how much I smoke but really love smoking. How screwed up is that. I am 67 and am really scared now for some reason, and I know if I don’t quit now I will not live another year, so tomorrow (I know, always tomorrow), my plan is to go to my drug store here, get some patches, (already have some gum) and give it a try. Your article really kicked me in the rear and was a wakeup call (I have had many wakeup calls, who knows). I am going to continue reading on this forum because I have really no one to talk to who understands it and how constricting this disease can be. Thanks again.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi again, Voni7 and thanks for your comments here in response to Derek’s article. Please know you are always welcome here – all of our members understand how you feel and know what you’re going through, too.
    I will wish you ‘good luck’ again as you begin the journey to stop smoking. Please do check back and keep us posted as to your progress. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • KMom
    1 year ago

    I have Emphysema. I was diagnosed about 7 years ago. When the Doctor told me, I told her I would never quit smoking. I was a total addict and actually smoked up to FOUR PACKS a day! I honestly don’t think I breathed air, just smoke. I went fishing all the time because we live right on the river. I could put a worm on the hook, cast and light a cigarette all at the same time!!
    I had smoked for 52 years. I started, age fourteen, because my sister said if I wanted to hang out with her and her friends I’d better learn, so she taught me. And I lost weight too! (that only lasted the first 3 months)
    By the time I got out of high school I was smoking close to a pack a day. And, as you see, it got worse and worse through the years. I still had no desire to quit even though, like Derek, I coughed so hard I’d almost pass out too.
    Well, it was about 6 months after my “Bad News” and I was down fishing and, Honest To God, I picked up my pack to light one and I looked at the pack and said out loud, “I Don’t Smoke” and I laid them down and never had another one or even a desire for one! The partial pack is still in my dresser drawer and I smile every time I remember it. I believe in Miracles and I know I had one that day. I had no cravings or side affects what so ever! I didn’t have to try, cigarettes just went away! Oh, and BTW, my cough is gone too. 🙂 I pray that if you still smoke, you’ll have a Miracle too.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi KMom and thanks for sharing you interesting experiences and long term history with smoking. You certainly seem to be one of the ‘lucky ones’, being able to quit smoking the way you did. We appreciate your candor with our online community.
    Keep up the good work!!
    Leon (site moderator)

  • lac251
    2 years ago

    I wish my mom was still alive so that I can share this with her. She absolutely refused to quit. I can’t help but wonder how different her life might have been.

  • goose
    2 years ago

    Boy oh boy does this hit home. I was diagnosed with COPD in 1999 and have quit probably about 20 times since then. This may sound sick to you but this past March I was diagnosed with stage IIIB lung cancer, and still can’t quit. My wife is pissed to say the least, but I keep trying to tell her this is habit you just don’t walk away from. I think that quitting for you loved ones sounds like the fix to this problem. I especially like having to think about your own funeral and how the family will (hopefully) feel. I believe I will attempt it again sounds like it could work. Thank you for sharing your story and congratulations on reaching 70 years young.

  • probbo
    2 years ago

    Hi Derrick. What a really great account of your journey to quitting Cigarettes.
    I also found it hard to quit and it was my last hospital admission that made me finely give up after seeing the worrying looks on my families faces.
    Since giving life has started looking more positive again.

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