I'm a podcaster and producer from the UK, now living in Esquimalt, BC. I've lived with asthma for my whole life. I've learned to know my limits and take care of myself by enforcing boundaries. (Editor's note: Sara refers to an "asthma pump," which is the UK term for a puffer.)
Where do you live, what do you do, and what age are you?
I’m 63 years young, I live in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, and I own and operate a podcast video network. I interview people who are making a difference in the world, in the lives of others – people all over the world who have embraced their journey, their struggles, and decided to embrace life. Now, they’re of service to others by sharing the knowledge and wisdom they’ve learned.
What lung disease do you live with?
I’ve been an asthmatic since the age of 2, when Asian flu went around England and I ended up with asthma. I was a very healthy, plump happy baby before then. It apparently came from my father's side. Everybody obviously thinks you outgrow it, but I never did.
I had to live my life with limitations – avoiding hills and such. I can't run and air quality always has an effect on me. Walking past The Body Shop is an example, with all the fumes coming from there. It can be frustrating, but at the same time, if you don't know those limitations and you get into an asthma attack, it’s much worse.
Are you on medication of any kind?
I'm on Ventolin and I have been since I was 14. Ventolin only, because I know how to monitor myself with it. Before I do a show, I always take a puff to make sure my lungs have got extra power, but I can still run out of air during a show. I use it before I go to bed, and I always carry it around with me in case. I know when I am reacting to something, so I can take it and use it as a preventative as well as when I get into an attack.
Were you ever on oxygen?
Yes, when I would go into hospitals and things like that, they'd have me on oxygen. Not at home though.
That's a good thing. I was on oxygen for 3 and a half years while I was waiting for my transplant, not 24-hours a day, but whenever I was walking or exercising, I had to be on it. It took me a while to get used to it because there's a stigma. I'd walk outside with my nose plugs, and people would stop and stare. I remember one day, a woman I didn’t know came up to me and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I'm going to go to my church group and we're going to pray for you." People know something is wrong with you with the oxygen. Otherwise if I say, "I can't do this or that" and people will look at me and say, "Well, why not? You look perfectly healthy."
I'd say, "This is my limitation," and they'd say, "Well, push yourself through it!" I know my limitations. I've been with my body a long time. I know what I can and cannot do, and I also know what price I'm willing to pay. There’s a bit of bullying but you just have to say “Sorry, I can’t. Sorry, I won’t. That’s it.”
Do you feel you have adequate care from your doctor and the health system?
Yes. I mean, they tried to put me on the generic pump, but that didn't work. I think I've been on Ventolin for far too long, 40 years now, but I'm just so used to being on it.
One thing that really helped was that I found an allergist. It’s all about biorhythms and resetting your body, and she did a whole complete cleanse of things I was allergic to. I used to not be able to be in a house with cat. I'd wheeze and get to a point where I wouldn't be able to breathe. After working with the allergist, I can be around cats and dogs, and that really was a god send.
What about other things? Are you allergic to pollen, and dander and dust?
Dust? Yes. Certain pollens and dander - the seasonal stuff. I would actually say, my skin reacts more than my asthma. Certain chemicals and things. You have to be careful.
Smoke from forest fires is also a problem. I was in Port Coquitlam during heavy fires last year. I tried to avoid going out, and taking my pump, making sure I was being preventative. It's not worth jeopardizing your health.
Do you have any advice for others living with asthma, on how to deal and lead a normal life?
I would say, go get tested with your allergies, because if they can help clear some up for you. I've done the prick test several times but this other way with the allergist I found to be more effective. It's helped a lot, because a lot of the problem with asthma is that so many things aggravate it. If you take away some of those sensitivities, it helps to let you just look after the asthma.
The other thing is knowing your limits – don't push yourself beyond what you know you can do. Never leave home, anytime, anywhere without your apparatus. I have one by my desk, one by my bed, and even if I'm just going out for five minutes, that pump has to be with me. It takes only one attack. Even when my kids were young, they knew that if mum started having an asthma attack, to run to the bedroom to get the asthma pump.
Are you able to exercise at all?
I go for walks, as long as it's flat and I watch the air quality. No running, obviously. Biking, again, as long as it's flat. Swimming, I love. Swimming is really good for me, because I find it opens up the lungs and I can do way more in the water.
Do you feel there's anything missing in BC's health care system for asthma sufferers?
I would love to see more prevention. I wish they would look to other alternative ways of healing, like with the allergies, and not stick to the same old thing.
I think being open to alternatives is important. Things like acupuncture or anything that can help relax the body are great. Anytime you get tense, your body tightens.
Sleeping better and relaxing better are important. These things can be more sustainable and longer lasting than just a drug. That's a problem with the medical system. It's always treating the symptom, rather than realizing that there's a whole body, rather than just the lungs, and rather than just putting a band aid on, there are many reasons for something and we need to go deeper and treat the whole body.
Have you seen a respirologist here in BC?
No, actually, I don't. If I have a bad bout, my doctor has an ongoing prescription with him for my pumps. I've seen lung specialists, but my asthma is pretty well under control, because I don't put myself in environments or do things that I know will aggravate it. I know to stop and rest, and rejuvenate, and pace myself.
It sounds like you're a perfect example of someone who manages to live with asthma because you know your limitations.
It’s making sure it doesn’t define you – I am not asthma. I happen to have asthma, and yet I can still live a very productive life. I’ve got to know my triggers, my limitations, and live within those parameters. I can't go at the same speed as other people, I can't do what other people do, but that's their journey and this is mine.
It doesn't mean I'm crippled by it. I am limited. But I can still go and do things that I can enjoy in life. I seek to do things more abundantly in some areas that I am lacking in other areas. You can still have a very good life. Those are just my challenges in life. If I live and I honor my body and my parameters in, then I still can get out and be productive. Most of my productivity is online, not physical, but I still consider it very productive.
I can see that you have a very positive attitude as well, which goes a long way.
I still get those times where you feel, "Why now?" Those down days happen sometimes, especially if you're in pain. But I think that's just the time for love and nurture for yourself and to honor your body and do what it needs to rejuvenate.
Find something that you love to do. For me, it’s music. Listening to music is very calming and soothing for me – switching off from the world, and finding that something that takes you to that center space where you can re-group.
Is there anything else in life that you embrace?
I love to dance. I live with fibromyalgia, which has become another health issue and limits me more than asthma, so that can making dancing hard but I still love it. I like to get out and enjoy life.
Sometimes my batteries run out too quickly, but again, it's about knowing your triggers: pollen, scents, don't get over-stressed.
Watch your anxiety, your stress level, do activities that calm you, even if it means switching off from the rest of the world. That's something that others are just going to have to understand. If they don't, I'm afraid that that's their problem. Don't let it be yours.
You'll have good days where you can do a lot more than you thought you could, and you'll really enjoy it! That might mean that the next couple of days you'll need a bit more downtime, in order to regroup. Just go with that flow.
What does the future hold for you, and your condition?
Since the allergy testing, it's been better. The fibromyalgia is my nemesis at the moment, and there are things that I’m trying to deal with it. But my lungs are alright now, and if I maintain this level as I get older, then I'm in control of it.
I hope it doesn't get worse, because in fact it has got better in the last few years. I still get triggers, still get out of breath, but I know when to push myself and when to honor my body.