With November being "National COPD Awareness Month,” experts urge patients who suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease to verify their treatment plans, and to be diligent about COVID-19 precautions.
Seventy-one-year-old Janice Cotton is a self-proclaimed "advocate for COPD-ERS." Her advocacy is all over YouTube. She says, “Oh, I think so!.. I think I’m a YouTube star.”
Cotton said she likes to tell her story, and while full of personality, her road to advocacy wasn't easy.
“In 1997, my mom died from COPD,” Cotton said. “We didn’t know what it was. We had no idea. The last thing she said was, ‘Janice, please stop smoking.’”
She said she smoked a pack a day for more than 40 years. Even after being diagnosed with COPD, she says she still smoked.
“I didn’t quit smoking when he told me, because when I went into the office to get the test, I was told you’ll be dead in 10 years so I said, ‘What the heck? I may as well keep smoking,’” Cotton said.
Eventually, she quit, and now urges others to do the same.
Does Cotton still crave tobacco?
“Oh no way Jose. Not at all; I don’t crave it,” Cotton said. “I don’t think about it. I tell people who are thinking about smoking, I say, 'Put a straw in your mouth, toothpick, something, anything but a cigarette.'”
“This is a treatable disease,” said Dr. Tom Corbridge, pulmonologist, a faculty member at the University of Northwestern near Chicago, and GlaxoSmithKline medical expert. “It is a progressive illness but it's also a treatable illness and the sooner you get in, the sooner you connect with a trusted healthcare provider, the sooner you can get help to restore some of the things you’ve lost.”
He says COPD is an umbrella term for chronic lung disease, which include things like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. He says there are 27 million patients with COPD in the U.S. and it's the fourth-leading cause of death.
“The main symptom that COPD causes (is) shortness of breath," Corbridge said. It's "hallmark symptom that would be worse with exertion, but also cough, raising of phlegm or mucous and wheezing are really the hallmarks of the disease.”
Those symptoms, he said, can be complicated by COVID-19.
“The pandemic has impacted my life and my disease management,” Cotton said. “So many of us were scared (of) death and afraid and didn’t want to go anywhere, didn’t want anybody to come see you.”
In a recent GlaxoSmithKline study, 83% of people living with COPD agree that COVID-19 has been a wake-up call about the vulnerability of the illness. But, Cotton said she's using her voice to make sure all COPD patients are diligent about things like face masks, hand washing and social distancing. She also recommends having what she calls an "action plan" with your doctor.
“I want people to understand and realize that knowledge is power. The more you investigate and research, the better off you’ll be when it comes to managing COPD,” Cotton said.
Doctors say the most important aspect is staying in touch with your physicians and staying on top of your symptoms.