Becky started smoking as a teenager in 1976 when she was a high school exchange student in Germany because some of her host family and friends were smokers. “I started smoking to fit in,” she said. After attending college in Ohio, Becky attended law school to pursue her dream of working as a public defender.
For the next several years, Becky had bouts of bronchitis and a nagging cough. She tried to quit smoking but could not stop, despite warnings from her doctors that she needed to quit. “I just didn’t want to hear it,” said Becky.
At age 45, Becky was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—a serious lung disease that gradually makes it harder and harder to breathe. Becky continued to smoke after she was diagnosed with COPD.
By 2012, Becky often felt out of breath and had no energy. “I couldn’t swim and I couldn’t keep up with my kids. I was slower than molasses,” she recalled. One day, while leaving work, she just couldn’t catch her breath. Frightened, she called 911. When the ambulance arrived, Becky was immediately given oxygen. The next thing she remembers is waking up in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
After being released from the hospital, Becky went to see a lung specialist, who shared some grim news with her. He told Becky that she needed a lung transplant. She eventually had to quit her job, and her new job was going to be pulmonary rehab. Pulmonary rehab is an intensive medical program designed to help people with breathing problems and can include:
- Education about how to manage one’s lung condition
- Energy-saving techniques
- Breathing strategies
- Exercise training
- Nutritional counseling
- Counseling and/or group support
“I wasn’t expecting any of this. That absolutely floored me. I just didn’t see it coming,” Becky said. After receiving such devastating news, Becky tried to stop smoking but continued to take an occasional puff or two. But she soon realized that in order to live, she had to quit. “I finally put cigarettes down for good when it became obvious to me that the dang things were really going to kill me. They had already stolen so much from me; I was not going to let them kill me outright,” said Becky. Thanks to pulmonary rehab, Becky hasn’t needed a lung transplant yet.
Becky admits that at first, she didn’t understand just how severely smoking had affected her health. She has since come to focus on the positive aspects of having quit smoking. “This doesn’t have to be a death sentence for me; I’m still young,” said Becky, now 54 years of age. “I still have something to do here. My two girls need me.”
Becky regrets that she put her family through such a difficult ordeal—particularly her children. “It’s not the childhood for them that I pictured. It’s certainly not the teenage years that I pictured.” As for cigarettes, Becky now remains smokefree. Although she has to take her oxygen tank with her wherever she goes, she appreciates the lifesaving benefits it provides her every day. “The oxygen gives me freedom. It allows me to get up and do things, instead of staying in bed all day.”
Becky is passionate about the importance of seeing a doctor if you have any symptoms of COPD. Because of her experience, she is open and frank with others about the health risks associated with smoking. When asked about her oxygen tank, she says, “I just tell them straight up: ‘You know, it helps me breathe. And it’s because I smoked.’”
Becky, 54, Ohio; diagnosed with COPD at age 45