Helping a Loved One | COPD Foundation

This article was reviewed by Senior Director of Community Engagement and COPD360social Community Manager, Bill Clark, as well as certified staff Respiratory Therapists on January 31, 2020.

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:

  • As long as your husband continues to smoke, the inhalers will not do him much 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 likely 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 over 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 for a variety of information 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

Coaches Corner 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 [email protected] We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to The COPD Coach.


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