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Sharon J., MA

Imagine holding your nose and trying to breathe through a straw. That’s what it’s like to live day-to-day with COPD.

A chronic progressive disease like COPD not only robs you of your ability to draw life-sustaining breath, but it can also be disruptive to families. I have been very fortunate. I thank heaven for the love and support from my husband Robert. I wouldn't be as well as I am today without him.

Robert and I had just gotten married in 1999 when I was first diagnosed with COPD and asthma. I had been at the doctor's office for a check-up where a small device was placed on my fingertip to check my oxygen levels. Before I even knew what was happening, the doctor was calling the ambulance— my oxygen levels were that low.

In the ER, my lips and nails were blue. This was my first real awareness of just how bad my lungs had become. It was a life-changing wake up call. I've been on oxygen around-the-clock since 2001.

Robert does all of the cooking, cleaning and shopping. I can't be around crowds for fear of picking up a germ and becoming even sicker than I already am. I try to keep a sense of humor about my condition, but lung disease is very challenging.

Over the years, the many steroid medications I've had to take have also damaged my bones. Both my hips and both shoulder joints have been replaced. I've also had a back operation due to degenerative disc disease…all of this due to the medication that keeps me alive.

When I was growing up, my dad was an undertaker. I worked as a hairdresser. I was always around a lot of toxic chemicals. All of us smoked too. Later in life, both of my parents had lung problems. My mother died of lung cancer and my dad died of emphysema.

Chemicals and smoking are major factors in lung disease, but outdoor air pollution is a concern too. It doesn't matter where you live; in reality, there is no such thing as clean, fresh air. On days when the air quality index reaches unhealthy levels, I can't go outside at all, because my symptoms could quickly escalate and my airways could close up.

Summer in Cape Cod means lots of vacationers coming to our area and major traffic congestion on our roadways. All the extra toxins in the air from tailpipe exhaust can be deadly to people like myself with lung disease. I can control my indoor air quality with air purifiers, but I can't control the outdoor air. I like to say, "God doesn't use a vacuum cleaner."

It's time for our legislators to take a stand on behalf of all of us who value our health. Legislation to clean up gasoline and reduce vehicle emissions from cars and trucks is absolutely a move in the right direction.

First Published: August 14, 2013

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