Becky H.’s Story
Becky was a high school exchange student living in Germany when she started smoking cigarettes. She thought smoking helped her fit in with her host family members and new friends. Over time, she discovered she had trouble quitting.
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. She continued smoking cigarettes after her diagnosis. Then, as she was leaving work one evening in 2012, Becky was unable to catch her breath. She tried not to panic, but knew she needed immediate medical help. Becky remembers waking up in the hospital’s intensive care unit and facing the fight of her life.
Today, Becky needs continuous oxygen to help her breathe, but she’s grateful that she quit smoking. Now she helps educate others about the dangers of smoking and encourages people who smoke to quit. Becky says, “Whenever I had a craving, I said to myself, ‘I choose not to smoke today.’”
Becky started smoking when she was a teenager, and although she tried, she found it difficult to quit. In 2012, Becky had a devastating wake-up call when she had to quit her job due to the severity of her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—a serious lung disease that makes it harder and harder to breathe. In these commercials and videos, Becky tells her story.
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Becky started smoking cigarettes when she was a high school exchange student living in Germany. Some of her host family members and new friends smoked, she said, “so I started smoking to fit in.”
After graduating from 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 she found she couldn’t make herself stop, despite warnings from her doctors that smoking could harm her health. “I just didn’t want to hear it,” said Becky.
At age 45, Becky was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—a lung disease that gradually makes it harder and harder to breathe. Still, Becky continued to smoke.
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 couldn’t catch her breath. Frightened, she called 911. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics immediately gave Becky oxygen to help her breathe. The next thing she remembers was waking up in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
After she was released from the hospital, Becky saw a lung specialist. He shared some grim news with her: Becky would need a lung transplant. “I wasn’t expecting any of this. That absolutely floored me. I just didn’t see it coming,” Becky said.
Becky tried to stop smoking cigarettes, but she continued to take an occasional puff or two. 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.
Becky eventually quit her job to focus her time and energy on 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
Thanks to pulmonary rehab, Becky hasn’t needed a lung transplant yet. At 54 years old, Becky 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 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,” she said.
Becky is passionate about the importance of seeing a doctor if you have any symptoms of COPD. Because of her own experience, she is open and frank with others about the health risks associated with smoking. When people ask about her oxygen tank, she says, “I just tell them straight up: ‘You know, it helps me breathe. And it’s because I smoked.’”