Kristin Chenoweth, the voice of beloved characters Glinda the Good Witch in “Wicked” and Sally in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” was in the midst of a Broadway show when she had the all-too-familiar feeling that she couldn’t catch her breath.
She reached for her rescue inhaler backstage, but it was empty. Luckily, someone else in the show had an inhaler on hand, although it contained a different medication, and Chenoweth was able to finish the performance.
She’s determined not to find herself — or anyone else — in that emergency situation again. Chenoweth is working with the American Lung Association (ALA), the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America, and Teva Pharmaceutical to raise awareness of asthma and money to send kids with asthma to a special, medically supervised summer camp. The Know Your Count campaign, sponsored by Teva, promotes the use of dose counters that keep track of how many doses are left in a rescue inhaler.
“If you take away your breath, you take away life,” Chenoweth said. “This is a very important cause to my heart. It’s very easy to talk about something when it affects you personally. That’s one of the best parts of having a following. If I have a voice, I can use it to help, and that’s something I take seriously.”
Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs of Asthma
Chenoweth wasn’t always so proactive. Her lung symptoms began about 15 years ago with repeated bouts of bronchitis. Then, two years ago, she came down with pneumonia and couldn’t seem to get well.
Her mother, concerned about her coughing and wheezing, suggested she might have asthma and told her to head to the doctor.
Symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and trouble breathing.
When the doctor told her she had adult-onset asthma, “I was in shock,” Chenoweth said. “And I think that happens to a lot of us. We ignore the signs of our bodies telling us that something’s not right.”
Today, Chenoweth still suffers from occasional asthma flare-ups.
“It can be seasonal, it can also be when I fly a lot, which makes sense, change of climate — and let’s face it, all of these things I do a lot,” she said. “Every time I think, ‘I can’t get my breath,’ I think, ‘Thank God there’s a medication for this.’”
‘You Have to Pull Up Your Big-Girl Pants’
Chenoweth will be taking part in the ALA’s three-mile Lung Force Walk tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. at Exhibition Park in Los Angeles, one of many Lung Force events across the country. She’ll be making a short speech about asthma awareness and the importance of listening to your body.
To those struggling with asthma for the first time, Chenoweth says, “Don’t panic, you’re not alone, there’s 25 million Americans who have it. Be aware of your body — if your lungs start telling you, ‘I can’t get my breath,’ use your inhaler, follow the directions ... Work out, whatever that workout means for you. Maybe that’s just a brief walk, and that’s OK.”
Chenoweth knows the power of positive thinking, but she admits that with her busy work life, it can be hard to find the time to take care of herself mentally and physically.
“Especially as a singer, you think, ‘Of all the things to have, why this?’ But as my mom says, ‘Why not you?’” Chenoweth said. “A positive mental attitude is key for any sickness, but there are days that I don’t have that. Sometimes you can just be like, ‘I can have a pity party every once in a while and feel sorry for myself,’ but ultimately, you have to pull up your big-girl pants, you really do.”
Chenoweth’s hectic showbiz schedule shows no signs of letting up. She is set to release a live CD titled “Coming Home” on Nov. 17. She will also be returning to Broadway in “On the Twentieth Century” this spring.