Today is the awareness day for a condition I have lived with for around 17 years called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD is a life-long condition that makes it difficult to empty air out of your lungs because the airways have been narrowed. Though you've probably never heard of it, around 1.2m people in the UK are diagnosed.
It develops because of long-term damage to the lungs from breathing in harmful substances, usually cigarette smoke, but it can also result from breathing in dust, fumes and air pollution.
I smoked when I was younger, but it was socially acceptable, even encouraged, in those days. No one talked about damage to your lungs, not even the doctors.
I was 54 when I was first admitted to hospital with a bad chest. I was told that my lung capacity was around 30%, and that it would only get worse if I continued smoking.
Even then, having already tried to quit smoking using hypnosis and acupuncture, I really struggled to stop. As we all know, smoking is very addictive.
Five years later, I was admitted to hospital once more, and this time was told that my lung capacity was at just 15%. It had halved in only 5 years. Only then did I finally manage to kick the habit, but by then it was too late; I was diagnosed with COPD.
Having now successfully quit, I wanted to share six important things smoking stole from my life to help raise awareness during World COPD Day:
1. Smoking stole my identity. It took away who I was in many ways. I always used to make the extra effort to help people out. But how can you do that when you're always breathless?
2. It stole my house. I had to move to a bungalow because having 15% lung capacity means I have to avoid stairs.
3. Smoking cost me my job. It takes me two-hours to get out of bed in the morning. COPD means I'm always gasping for air. Working became impossible.
4. I've lost my strength. I find simple things like getting up, washing or even brushing my hair exhausting. I'm reliant on my scooter if I want to go to the shops. I have to give myself extra time to do physical things as my condition means I do everything at a snail's pace.
5. It's stolen much of my social life. I now have to have oxygen on hand if I ever want to fly on a plane - an extra hassle I didn't have to deal with before. It makes going on holiday stressful when it should be relaxing!
6. The most important thing smoking has stolen from me is my father. I recently discovered that he died from the same disease I live with - COPD. Knowing that smoking took my father makes me look at my grandchildren through different eyes.
In a way, I'm grateful to still be here and see them grow up at all. However, I can't run around and play with them the way I'd like to. I can't tell you how much I would hate it if any of them took up smoking.
I know COPD isn't just a smokers' disease, but you're increasing your chances of lung damage each time you light-up. That's why, for six life-limiting reasons, I'm supporting the British Lung Foundation's campaign to look after your lungs.
The BLF is currently looking for the millions of people who have COPD and don't even know it, in the hope that they can be diagnosed and maintain their precious lung function.
They're encouraging anyone who gets out of breath doing everyday tasks, such as walking up stairs, to take the online breath test on their website: www.blf.org.uk/breathtest and if advised, to speak to a GP.Suggest a correction