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Joan’s story

“Coming to terms with how debilitating COPD is has been tough”

Joan Brooks, 71, lives in Musselburgh, East Lothian. After being treated for lung cancer in 2017, she was diagnosed with COPD. Since 2019, she has been a member of the East Lothian Warblers, a singing group for lung health.

No treatment or cure

I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017 and thankfully was successfully treated. But then doctors told me I had COPD.

As there’s no treatment or cure for COPD, there was nothing they could do. I was told I would have to learn to live with and manage the condition.

I had heard of the condition before my diagnosis, but living with it is so much more difficult than I would have imagined. I use an inhaler and have a nebuliser at home to help with breathlessness.

Walking is difficult because I get out of breath so quickly. I have to use an inhaler just to go upstairs at home. My husband Stephen drives me anywhere I need to go, and I have to take extra precautions to ensure there aren’t any steps to negotiate.

Coming to terms with how debilitating COPD is has been tough. But one of the best ways I’ve found to manage my COPD is through my weekly attendance at the East Lothian Warblers, a singing group for people with chest conditions like mine.

The best thing I’ve done

For me, joining the Warblers is one of the best things I ever did. I’ve also done a pulmonary rehab course that gave me advice on how I can help myself and I do a tai chi class.

But the singing is what maintains my lung health. It really opens my lungs up, and I can still feel the benefit hours later. The class is only on once a week in East Lothian, but I wish it was on every day!

I had a tough couple of years after my lung cancer treatment, and was hospitalised several times with infections. After yet another hospital stay, I felt my breathing had not returned to its base level.

That was when one of my daughters encouraged me to join the Warblers. She’s a nurse in Edinburgh, and told me that research has shown that gentle singing can improve lung fitness and retrain breathing patterns, essential for people like me who are living with COPD.

Moving online

The group used to meet weekly in person until Covid-19 restrictions meant we couldn’t meet any more. Instead, we started doing a weekly Zoom call.

Since we went on to Zoom, the class has changed a bit, we cannot hear each other on Zoom. Jane, who leads it, shows us exercises before we start the singing. Once we are all singing we, apart from Jane, are on mute otherwise the sound would not be right. Then we get a chance to have a chat.

But the videos for the warm-up exercises and singing we do are all on the website, so I can go there at any time and do them.

Zoom has also given us the chance to meet other singing for lung health groups. We got together with groups from Cambridge and the Forest of Dean, and that’s not normally something we’d have been able to do. We had such a great time and made new friends.

The Warblers have helped me live with COPD. I couldn’t do without them. The class is a lifesaver.

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