I was asked the other day how I was doing with my emphysema. Someone told me that they had just recently been diagnosed and she was feeling a bit scared about the whole thing. I remember those days. When someone tells you that you have a serious lung disease, it is a bit disconcerting. I too was very scared it is a lethal disease it will kill you. I had always heard that if you quit smoking before you were diagnosed with emphysema then you would not get emphysema. However, if you did not quit smoking and was diagnosed with emphysema it was too late. I figured it was too late for me. I truly thought I was going to just lie down and die. There was no hope.


Boy was I wrong. Although I did spend a good year on the couch, unable to breathe, taking a lot of steroids, I eventually learned there was hope. Emphysema does not have to be a death sentence. There is work involved though. As everyone knows, the first step is to quit smoking. I do know some people with the disease who continue to smoke. It is very difficult to quit and some people are unable to do so. I guess it’s all about your motivation. I heard somebody say that it didn’t matter they were so far gone, that it wouldn’t matter if they quit smoking or not. I do not know if anybody is too far gone. I don’t know if it helps to quit smoking when your disease is advanced. I have to think it does. I know I quit smoking the wrong way. I use the gum, the patch, and did whatever it took to quit. The reason I quit, was because I had a lady speak about quitting smoking in a quit smoking class. She explained that when you quit smoking you lessen your chance of going on oxygen sooner than later. She then explained what it was like to go shopping, to go to the grocery store, to go to the ballgame, to take a walk around the park on a beautiful day, when you have to lug around oxygen. Even the newer versions you have to lug around a backpack or the travel size canisters, which give you two hours. I did not want to have to plan that. I want to be able to go to the beach when I want to go to the beach I know when I can have enough oxygen with me in order to survive the day. Can you imagine what you have to do to go on a trip.


Besides quitting smoking, I decided I needed to lose weight. Spending a year ingesting high doses of steroids not really exercising and laying on the couch, I gained weight. The prednisone made me hungry. But my lungs said no no no you are not walking today. So I ate and I ate  and ate and I did not exercise. Prednisone has a habit of relocating your fat in your body and it did a great job with all the extra fat I gave it. Before that year I weighed hundred and 15 pounds. After the end of the year I weighed 180. Did I mention that prednisone made me hungry? Even if you eat healthy, say carrots, eating 5 pounds of then are not healthy. I needed to lose the weight. I went to a class that explained to me why I should really lose weight. Well, the class explained a lot but that was one of the sections. When you breathe normally, your diaphragm does the work. When you breathe in your diaphragm drops to your stomach. That is why your stomach goes out when you breathe in. When you breathe out your diaphragm goes back to its place under your ribs. It is squeezing the air out. It is bad enough that your lungs do not exhale as well as they inhale, that your diaphragm can’t do its job either because there is too much fat in your stomach.


The only real way to lose weight is to decrease calories and increase exercise. It is very difficult when you have a lung disease that limits your breath. Not to mention the prednisone is hard on your heart so cardio is not a good idea. That sounds so foreign to so many people. “What do you mean no cardio,” they say in their shocked gym voices. Well, yeah, no cardio. Your heart is a muscle and like any muscle if you exercise it, it grows big.  Having already damaged it with the steroids, there is no reason to make my heart bigger than it is. Can lead to a heart attack, which I don’t want. No cardio means no running, no heavy lifting, none of the exercises you find at a gym typically. It means I can walk. Instead of walking is super-fast for 15 minutes, I can walk at a moderate pace for an hour. Gives me the same result. It just takes longer to lose weight, to tone up, and no one thinks you’re working out.


Along with exercise, comes eating right. It is totally weird to me when I tell people what I have done to change my diet, they tell me there’s no way they could do that. I did not join a diet plan. In fact, I don’t have a diet. I cut out 99.9% of processed foods, I rarely open a box to feed my family. I ate a lot more fresh food. Because I do have a lung disease , I burn more protein trying to breathe than other people who are healthy, so I have to maintain a high-protein diet. That actually doesn’t mean eating more bacon. It actually means eating fish, eating more lean protein such as turkey meat and chicken meat and a little less red meat. Sorry about that. Of course, there is other proteins out there, nuts, legumes, means, cheese, eggs, etc. I do try to eat fresh fruits, fresh veggies and just in general try to make healthier choices. I am not perfect I love a cheeseburger now and then I like to make cookies, but the idea is that I spend 90% of my time doing it right. It is slow going, but it is working.


I guess what I want to say is, is not easy, but emphysema is not a death sentence. I don’t want others to do as I did. I do not want them to lie down and decided that this is it for them. I want them to know it’s been almost 5 years for me know and I have my ups and downs, but overall, my life’s been good. I am not on supplemental oxygen. I do take all my medicine as directed. I do take extra vitamins and minerals after talking to my doctor, some of them can interfere with medications. I have talked to a nutritionist, a D.O., and have taken a class that is geared towards people with emphysema and other lung diseases. It is super good to educate yourself about what you have. Again, emphysema does not have to be a death sentence.  It depends on you.