Image via Janice Cotton

When Janice Cotton was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 20 years ago, she admits she was in denial.

In 2000, much less was known about COPD. Cotton’s doctor never recommended exercising, changing her diet, or looking for support groups.

“I wish I could go back and tell myself to find support. I wish I knew the destruction I was doing to myself. I wish I never smoked,” Cotton said.

Cotton didn’t quit smoking until 2007 when she discovered the COPD Foundation.

The COPD Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people with COPD. Since becoming involved with the foundation, she has been named a State Advocacy Captain for Illinois.

“This is my cross to bear, but I also want to make a difference in the lives of other people who have COPD and their family members,” Cotton said.

Cotton dedicates her free time to talking to people about the condition and giving them information on:

  • exercise
  • pulmonary rehabilitation
  • where to find resources

She gives out health information at church, and she’s lobbied on Capitol Hill for funding for COPD research and treatment initiatives.

“It seems like a no-win situation, but you can win by keeping as positive as you can, doing the right things to stay as healthy as possible, and getting around the right people,” Cotton said.

Cotton said it’s “hard to do much of anything when you can’t breathe,” but she makes an active effort to walk for exercise.

COPD has made life more difficult for Cotton physically, but she says that mentally it has changed her for the better.

“I can’t judge anybody about what they say or do,” Cotton said. “It’s not necessary to know why people do things, but instead to know if they’re able to come out of their trials and tribulations with something good.”

She long ago stopped asking “why me?” and dwelling on the negatives. Instead, she focuses on making a difference.

“I am going to be defined by my advocacy and what I’ve done for the community, not for having the disease,” Cotton said. “I was this type of person before. COPD just enhanced me to be a better person.”