Helping a Loved One

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Dear COPD Coach,
Hi, my husband is 53 yrs old he was diagnosed with emphysema. He has been smoking for 35 years or so. He wheezes and has a hard time breathing. He takes inhalers but still continues to smoke. We have an 8 month old baby and I feel desperate. I read that the average lifespan with the disease is 4 years and I tremble at this possibility. I have read every article on the subject and I am scared to death about the prognosis. I am scared to have a serious conversation with him because I think he is in denial. How do I approach this situation? What stage is he in?

Please advise me as to what to do. Every time I read an article I get contradictory information. Everything is like a bad dream. I want him to live and see the baby grow, I just don’t know what to do to help him. Thank you.

-Desperately awaiting your response

Dear Desperately,
I am very sorry to hear all you are going through. Unfortunately, it is all too common. I would like to be able to tell you that everything is going to be ok but that wouldn't be totally true.

Let's take this one question at a time:

Quit Smoking for COPD

  • As long as your husband continues to smoke, the inhalers will not do him any good. A recent study has found that smoking cancels out the effect of the medications.
  • If your husband won't quit smoking in order to see his baby grow up, then there is little you are going to be able to do to convince him. The only way a person can quit is if he wants to.
  • You can do some things to help him cut back, like not allowing him to smoke around you, the baby, or in the house. Do your best to avoid having the baby come in contact with your husband’s smoky clothing.
  • As far as having a serious conversation with him, you have to just do it! Tell him that you and his child love him and need him but that it is very unlikely that unless he quits smoking that won't be possible.
  • Find a state or local quit smoking program. They know how to work with the heavily addicted smokers and they may be able to help you deal with this, too. They may have a support group to give your husband the encouragement and motivation he needs.
  • As to what stage he is in, there is no way of knowing without a complete evaluation including a pulmonary function test and a chest X-ray.
  • I wouldn't put 4 years as an average. A lot depends on him. If he quits smoking and starts taking care of himself he will probably live well beyond that. I was diagnosed 15 years ago and still am going strong.
  • Check with your nearest university hospital to see if you can get an appointment with a doctor who is familiar with the latest research, treatments and methods. The thing that ultimately helps your husband quit smoking and breathe better might not be available to you locally. Please know that this doesn’t mean your husband can’t keep his local doctor. Physician specialists are only a part of your husband’s health provider team.

The best thing you can do is to get educated about COPD. Check on our website for the "Learn More" tab and then click “Downloads.” Look for the Big Fat Reference Guide, which is a 400 page book that covers everything you need to know. While on our website, click on the “Community” tab and check out our social site. You will find many others dealing with the same situation.

Sorry I couldn't be of more help. Sometimes being in denial is easier than doing what we need to do. You will be in our thoughts and prayers

-The COPD Coach

Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.


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  • I have emphysema and quit smoking 9 years ago when I was officially diagnosed. I really hope your husband will take this seriously especially if he is not that advanced and quits smoking. I am on 02 now and it is harder to get around. Please take care of you and your baby., second hand smoke is not good either.
  • I was just about the same way as your husband is, but never took it seriously until I ended up in the hospital for 9 days. Now I have to take oxygen wherever I go, and it is a real pain in the butt. After 9 days of no smoking in the hospital I figured that's a good start so I just stuck to it and quit. A pack and a half a day for 45 years. If he's like I was he will probably quit when he has too but will be packing O2 for the rest of his life. Or he can quit now and skip the O2 part, the smart thing to do, what I should have done. Wish you all the best .

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