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Struggling to Breathe - Lena's Story

Lena McCullum was in her early twenties when she had her first lung collapse. “My son was only two years old and we were tobogganing. I had pulled him up the hill and when I got home, I couldn’t breathe. They took me to the hospital and told me that my lung had collapsed,” explained Lena.

“During my twenties, thirties and forties, I had four lung collapses in total. The doctor had told me to quit smoking but I kept thinking, ‘just one pack more’ or ‘tomorrow I’ll quit’.
I was diagnosed with COPD about 15 years ago. I had some testing done before I went to Nova Scotia to visit my family. When I got back, I thought I had bronchitis. So I went to another doctor, who saw the results from my testing. He said, ‘I see you have emphysema.’ Well, I just about jumped out of my chair.”

Emphysema is one of the breathing diseases that’s part of COPD. Learn more about COPD, the new name for emphysema and chronic bronchitis

“My father had died of emphysema. Two aunts and two uncles died from it, too. So I knew its name, but I really didn’t think about it happening to me. My whole family smoked. My two sisters had quit smoking years ago because they had seen Dad dying of emphysema. But I wasn’t there when he was dying. I didn’t realize how difficult breathing with COPD could be – it’s like breathing through a straw,” explained Lena.

Post script: Lena had a double lung transplant and was doing well. But in 2012, she died of pancreatic cancer. Before she died, as part of her wish to encourage others to quit or not take up smoking, Lena agreed to have her photo and quote on the new graphic warnings found on cigarette packs. “If I could tell one thing to other smokers, I’d tell them: Please don’t smoke,” she said.