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COPD at 40


Hi everyone, let me start by introducing myself.

My name is Justine Peach. I am a 40 year old woman with a beautiful 16 year old daughter and I live in Melbourne Australia.

I used to have a wonderful job that I loved doing. I worked as a nursery hand in a wholesale plant nursery. I moved between two different areas every six months. For the first six months I would be doing all areas of the work place. I would transplant baby plants into trays on a conveyor belt or moving trays of plants to their designated area to grow. Once ready we would be moving the trays from the ground to a trailer attached to a buggy and put them down ready to pick orders. Staking tomato plants, or watering the entire stock. Sweltering on hot days in greenhouses. There were many different areas and depending on staff and stock as to what our job for the day would be. The other six months I would spend at the main nursery department as a dispatch worker. Getting plants ready to load on trucks and be delivered to stores around Australia . I loved it!

I have a year 12 certificate. A certificate II and III in warehousing operations and a forklift license. I am well educated and always on the go. So much so, that I ignored the persistent cough I'd suffered for four years. I tried several times to see if it was anything serious and the doctors kept telling me that it was just asthma. I didn't argue with them as I attended many different surgeries and always got the same answer. Mind you, the only test they performed was putting the stethoscope on my back and asking me to breath deeply. Sometimes until I felt I was going to pass out from dizziness.

I started smoking late in life. Most people start at a young age before they're even legally allowed. My friends would pinch their parents smokes. Lol.

I was 21. I smoked less than 10 cigarettes a day. Back then sporting arenas and other major events were sponsored by tobacco companies. The Benson and Hedges cricket test is one that springs to mind. It was seen as socially acceptable. 

Cool even.

My cough got worse and worse. It was a constant regime of prednisone steroid tablets, to strengthen my supposed asthma induced condition. And, Ventolin inhalers with a round of antibiotics. It got to the point where I was self medicating. Instead of seeing a doctor I would just use an unfilled script of the usual medication and take the dose I was so used to.

But then it got really bad. So bad I took a week off from my much loved job to get myself fully checked out. I was coming home from work and laying down to rest for a little while. But instead, staying in the same spot all night because I just didn't have the energy to move. My weight plummeted and considering I never hovered above 48kgs (I'm only 5'2 ....and a half!) and always had trouble gaining weight I dropped to at least 42kgs. My pants kept having to be hitched up.

Two weeks after my 40th birthday I decided enough was enough...I needed answers.

I went to a clinic that my friend had recommended and was close to home. I told the doctor my concerns and asked for tests to be performed. Luckily for me the surgery was well equipped and had its own X-ray machine and as I found out also spirometry machine.

An X-ray was performed on my chest/lungs. I was given the X-ray to take home and booked and appointment for only 3 hours time so the doctor could look at them.
My friends (none of which were qualified health care workers I might add) gave me a little piece of information that would turn out to change my life as I knew it. They said.. 'Black spots and its cancer, shadows and its emphysema.'

I took the X-ray home and opened the envelope. This was what I ended up being confronted with....

My whole lung and part of the other lung was all shadow.
I knew straight away it meant emphysema and I knew by the damage that it wasn't good.

The doctor confirmed my fears. I didn't know very much about the disease and always thought of emphysema as an 'old persons disease'.  You know, the ones with the hacking cough in the retirement homes! Not a 40 year old. 

September 22nd 2014.

I haven't even known about the disease for a year yet and I am over half way into a four stage terminal illness where the fourth stage is called the 'end stage'. I was at third stage at diagnosis.

After the initial shock, disbelief and other unimaginable feelings I found a new attitude.

I started seeing it as a blessing...a heads up I call it. I had to quit my job immediately and learn how to slow down. I also had to explain it to my beautiful 15 year old daughter. That hurt more than the illness ever could.

Fortunately, I decided that if I laid in bed all day feeling sorry for myself, or list my wicked cheeky sense of humor then I may as well be dead already! I was preparing for a fight. At the same time, I organised my will and made sure that if anything did happen there would be less for my girl to have to deal with in my absence.

I now do things I never really had time too. I go to bands, sporting events and activities that I would've been too busy to do or just assumed I had plenty of time in which to do them. 

Not anymore.

I spend more time with my friends, I slow down and appreciate small things like the neighbors rose bush with a newly budding rose. My health I keep in check. If I get a cough I have to take antibiotics just to prevent a chest infection. Flu shot. Pneumonia shot. Ect...

My friends look at me with sympathy but I remind them that tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone and I could just as well out live them. They could have a heart attack or car accident, just because I know does not mean I require anymore sympathy. I just have to take extra precautions.

If you have read my story and have a cough that won't budge then don't just procrastinate! Make an appointment with your GP and get a full check up. Even if you don't feel sick. A checkup should be done at least every two years just as a precaution whether you smoke or not. Work in an environment that is dusty, has fumes or toxic chemicals that are being breathed in without a second thought. It is imperative that the earlier the diagnosis the better quality of life due to proper medication and care.

Take care everyone. And if I've made you paranoid enough to see your GP then it has all been worthwhile. 

Justine Peach - Melbourne, Australia
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