Tina Moyer, 47, hasn’t touched a cigarette in almost three years. But at one point, the longtime smoker from Middleburg, Pa., consumed about three packs a day and didn’t think twice about her destructive habit. In 2009, however, a frightening episode took the wind out of her—literally.
“At night, trying to sleep, I would start to feel really short of breath,” Moyer says. “I realized, ‘OK, I need to do something about this.’”
After nearly 30 years of lighting up, Moyer was determined to quit once and for all. She and her son, Rob, also a heavy smoker, both stopped cold turkey on Oct. 9, 2009. “It was a blessing to have someone else go through this journey with me,” Moyer says. “If I was ever tempted to go and get a cigarette, Rob was right behind me, coaching me and motivating me. It’s a mind game. You have to keep pushing.”
Though she successfully kicked the habit, Moyer still felt breathless. She also experienced swelling in her feet and ankles—a telltale sign of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Even so, Moyer’s physician dismissed her symptoms as a normal part of aging.
In 2010, another doctor diagnosed Moyer with emphysema, one of several diseases collectively known as COPD. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and frequent respiratory infections.
Moyer says COPD often makes it difficult for her to engage in her favorite outdoor activities such as birdwatching and gardening. “It’s frustrating,” she says. “There are times when I just start to cry because it’s so hard to breathe.”
To make matters worse, Moyer works in a sewing factory where she is exposed to dust, chemicals and other respiratory irritants, which worsen her emphysema. “I’ve noticed I get so many more head colds and sinus infections than ever before,” she says. “But this is my livelihood, and I have to keep going.”
Moyer has found ways to manage her COPD. In addition to using a prescription inhaler daily, she has adopted an exercise regimen that includes riding a recumbent bicycle for 20 minutes a day and performing light weightlifting exercises.
Doctors say regular exercise can diminish COPD symptoms by strengthening the heart and lungs.
“After my diagnosis, I went through pulmonary rehab, which was incredibly helpful,” she explains. “It taught me how to cope with the shortness of breath through pursed-lip breathing. It also showed me how to properly take my [inhaled] medication.”
Life was beginning to look up again, but two knee surgeries sidelined Moyer, causing her emphysema to progress from mild to moderate. Still, Moyer is keeping up the fight against COPD. Her knee now is stronger, and she’s begun exercising again.
“It’s really hard, but the important thing is to never give up,” she says. “It’s like getting back on a hobby-horse and trying all over again.”
Hoping to foster a supportive community for fellow COPD sufferers, Moyer launched the COPD Aware Facebook page, where she posts encouraging words and information about the disease.
“I think the more support you give to people, the more you get in return,” Moyer says. “A lot of people don’t know about this condition, and I’m passionate about being an advocate for it.”