When we were growing up, we lived close to our grandparents. We loved them so dearly that we would spend the majority of our time with them.
My grandmother taught me how to cook, how to crochet, and how to set a formal table for dinner. We were blessed to come from a close, nurturing family that placed us on the right path for life.
But my grandfather would smoke cigarettes all day.
After the age of 40, all my siblings were diagnosed with asthma, and I was diagnosed with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
When I was in my 40s, we were a military family stationed in the California desert. We were literally 45 miles away from the I-10 freeway. There was nothing to do in the desert except go to school or go to the gym.
I chose both.
I had 3 kids, and I didn’t want excess weight because I come from a family with diabetes and heart disease.
My husband, who’s a gym rat and who’s been a bodybuilder since high school, started training me. Once I got my routine down, other people in the gym started helping me with my training as well. I started doing weightlifting competitions. I competed in seven and won five.
During my last competition, I won by bench-pressing 150 pounds. The judges were trying to push me to put more weight on the bar, but I knew I only needed 150 to win, so that’s what I lifted. At my best, I benched 160.
After winning the competition on Saturday, I returned to the gym on Monday, and I couldn’t even get the 45-pound bar off the rack. The guys were teasing me, saying “quit playing,” and my husband asked me if I was serious.
I was. I didn’t have the strength and I didn’t have the air.
I didn’t have enough wind in me to lift the bar.
I went to the doctor and was really blessed to have someone who ran several tests on me. He said I had an issue with my thyroid that he called a “thyroid storm.”
Approximately 3 months later, at the age of 40, I was diagnosed with asthma.
My breathing got so bad that I could barely walk up the stairs in my house. It was 18 stairs. I would count them as I went up. At the top of the stairs, I would just fall on the bed and catch my breath.
The doctors gave me a rescue inhaler and later, they put me on Advair (fluticasone propionate/salmeterol). By that time, our family was transferred to Texas, which was also a desert, but a different type of heat. It was a dust bowl.
At that point, I would try to go to the gym and build my endurance on the treadmill and bicycle, but I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I just let it go.
Years later, we moved to central Florida, which was better for my breathing. The doctor increased my medication and ran even more tests on me.
I soon became what’s known as a “nonadherent patient” because I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere, and I felt like I wasn’t being heard. I told the doctors I was tired of the medication. It didn’t work for me, so I stopped taking it.
Soon after, at the age of 60, I was diagnosed with progressive COPD.
These days, I’m on oxygen at night when I sleep, and it really helps, but I still have problems when I’m up and about. I went to the ER for breathing issues on Thanksgiving Day.
I’ve been diagnosed with heart disease and now have a pacemaker.
I’m a licensed and ordained minister, but COPD has affected me in a way that I struggle to deliver a message because I struggle with air.
I had to rearrange the way I cook. I can’t make big meals because I can’t stand for a long time.
Right now, it is pollen season, so I don’t go out. I try to pay attention to the air quality because it impacts my breathing.
I had to advocate and fight for myself every step of the way, and now I’m advocating for others.
In 2017, I was asked to join the American Lung Association’s COPD Patient Advisory Group. I agreed to be on the panel because there has to be a better way to treat COPD. If I can be a part of offering any help or advice to find a better way, it would be beneficial to those who have trouble dealing with the disease as I do.
Being a part of the American Lung Association has given me a complete understanding of how long it actually takes to get a new medication created — all of the clinical trials, applications, and approvals that are involved.
In addition, my daughter works in the IT department of a trauma center so I’ve been able to ask her about how long it takes for a medication to start working in a patient. With this knowledge, combined with the fact that I’m a retired nurse, I now have a greater understanding of the necessary changes it takes to get a new medication for a patient.
As they say, knowledge is power. If you apply your knowledge to trying new and possibly more effective medications in a patient, then you have accomplished something great.
I now see my doctor regularly and I take my medication as prescribed. It has made a difference in the progression of COPD in my lungs.
Midge Wilson is a retired nurse and a licensed and ordained minister. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her family where she currently sits on the board of the Let’s Kick Asthma Foundation. Midge also serves as a patient advocate as part of the American Lung Association’s COPD Patient Advisory Group.