Geri, age 58, started smoking around the age of 20. Most everyone she knew smoked, so she didn’t think it was a big deal. She smoked about a pack of menthol cigarettes a day for 35 years.
When Geri started having trouble catching her breath, she went to her doctor for a check-up. She was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) at age 44.
Geri worked as a mail carrier in Michigan – a fast-paced and physically demanding job. As her COPD got worse, Geri would get winded after walking just a few steps. At age 54, Geri had to quit the job she loved in order to take care of her health. She successfully quit smoking soon after in 2015.
Living with COPD left Geri with less and less energy for the activities she loved, like cooking holiday meals for her family or running after her grandchildren at the park. Through supplemental oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation, Geri regained some of her strength. She hopes that one day she’ll be accepted for a lung transplant.
Geri hopes her experience can be a lesson for others who smoke or are struggling to quit. “If I can help even one person to quit, then I’ve turned my curse into a blessing,” Geri said.
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Cigarettes were always around in the background of Geri’s childhood memories. When she was growing up, her mother, grandfather, and most of her relatives smoked. She didn’t think it was a big deal when she started smoking around age 20. Her boyfriend at the time smoked, so she did too.
Geri, age 58, preferred menthol cigarettes and smoked about a pack a day for 35 years. She smoked when she drank coffee in the morning, on breaks during her workday, and when out at clubs with friends. She was always active with hobbies like gardening, cooking, and dancing, so when she started having trouble catching her breath, she went to her doctor for a check-up.
Geri was only 44 years old when her doctor diagnosed her with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), a condition that makes it harder and harder to breathe and can cause death. COPD refers to a group of diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. Most cases of COPD are caused by smoking or secondhand smoke exposure. Geri’s doctor prescribed an inhaler to help with her symptoms and advised her to stop smoking.
Geri tried to quit smoking a few times. She experimented with different quitting methods – nicotine patch and gum, prescription cessation medication, even hypnosis – but she was addicted to nicotine, and had a lot of difficulty quitting. “I didn’t really take it seriously, and I should have,” Geri said. “I just thought, ‘Give me a pill or whatever else I need so I can get on with my life.’”
Slowing down wasn’t an option for Geri, who worked as a mail carrier in Michigan. Her job was fast-paced and physically demanding. She was on her feet all day carrying heavy packages up and down stairs. As her COPD got worse, Geri couldn’t take more than a few steps before she got winded.
Then one morning in 2014, Geri woke up and couldn’t breathe. “I couldn’t get any air in, I couldn’t get any air out,” she recalled. Her chest was tight. She thought she was having a heart attack, but she was experiencing a flare-up of her COPD. The paramedics arrived and put a ventilator mask over her nose and mouth to force air through her tightened airways.
After that, Geri’s doctor advised her to stop working. The physical nature of her job was too taxing on her health. At age 54, Geri’s smoking forced her to quit the job she loved in order to take care of her health. She successfully quit smoking soon after in 2015.
Living with COPD left Geri with less and less energy for the activities she loved, like cooking holiday meals for her family or running after her grandchildren at the park. Taking a shower or making the bed exhausted her. “I would roll over at night just to get comfortable and be out of breath,” Geri recalls. “COPD took a lot out of me at first and made me angry.”
With supplemental oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation, Geri regained some of her strength. When she first started pulmonary rehabilitation, she could barely walk for two minutes on the treadmill. She can now walk for half an hour. She hopes that one day she’ll be accepted for a lung transplant.
Geri made other adjustments in her life as well. While she still puts on a big Thanksgiving feast for her family, she starts preparing dishes weeks in advance and takes breaks when she feels tired. Instead of taking her grandchildren to the zoo, she takes them to places where she can be near an electrical outlet to plug in her oxygen machine. She always checks to make sure her oxygen tanks are full before she leaves the house and uses a walker to get her mail.
Though the damage to Geri’s lungs has worsened over time, she maintains a positive outlook. She feels grateful for the help of her family, who come by to take out her trash or drive her to medical appointments. She wants her experience with smoking to serve as a lesson for others who smoke or are struggling to quit. “If I can help even one person to quit, then I’ve turned my curse into a blessing,” Geri said.