I Thought I Just Had an Annoying, Nagging Cough—but It Was Actually a Severe Lung Disease

With only 100,000 people affected in the United States, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF, is a diagnosis that few are familiar with.

Mark-CochranCourtesy Mark Cochran
Mark Cochran, 62, of Chicago, runs a family manufacturing business with his wife, and twin 29-year-old sons. He’s an avid golfer, and physically active, so when a nagging cough led to fatigue and weight loss, he assumed it was simply the aging process taking its toll. “Three months before I was diagnosed, I had this slight cough with some fatigue,” Mark tells Reader’s Digest. “I was wondering if I was just getting older, but the cough combined with the weight loss was concerning,” he adds. (Check out the seven silent signs that your lungs could be in trouble.) Mark developed a case of pneumonia that landed him in the hospital for five days, and it was there he received the news he never saw coming: Mark had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable rare lung condition in which scar tissue grows in the lungs over time, resulting in shortness of breath, limited lung capacity, and weight loss. “The lung x-rays at the hospital weren’t normal, and so they did a CT scan, which ultimately led to my diagnosis,” he explains. The chronic condition can occur spontaneously; in some cases, there may be a genetic link. Some risk factors for IPF include breathing in metal or wood dust, smoking, and having acid reflux disease. (Watch out for this common cleaning ingredient that can increase your risk of lung disease.)

coupleCourtesy Mark CochranThe news came as a shock to Mark and his family; he was worried about the ways pulmonary fibrosis might change his life. “My first thoughts were about the impact on my family and business. Being told you have an incurable disease, that the only treatment is a lung transplant, and that it has unpredictable progression, is devastating,” he says. Mark, like many with a difficult diagnosis, turned to the internet to get more information, and what he found was frightening. “I was researching online and there was information about the disease—but not treatments. Google didn’t have any positive news. It wasn’t until I met with my doctors that I began to have hope,” he recalls.

Mark credits his pulmonary doctors with offering him hope through a new medication, Esbriet, that has shown promising results in those with IPF. “It took me about two months to get acclimated to some of the side effects of the drug. My doctors told me I could exercise—and that’s when I really turned a corner. I felt like I could do something to be proactive and get better. I began walking and increasing my time and distance,” he explains. Today, Mark continues to run his family business with the help of his wife and sons, though he maintains a reduced schedule in order to make time for the exercise his doctors recommend to improve his lung function. (Here are 11 exercises that can increase your lung power.)

Mark says he hopes that others with a similar lung disease will find hope through hearing his story. “I would have loved to have heard my own story 16 months ago,” he says. “I would tell others that there is treatment—you can live with the disease” he adds. He is quick to point out that it was not only the support of family and friends that got him through the initial shock, but also that of the doctors that refused to let him believe his situation was hopeless. “My biggest inspiration through this was my pulmonary and lung transplant doctors,” he says. “Their dedication and commitment to making sure I know there is hope, and that I can keep living my life even though I have this disease has been incredible,” he adds. “The support from my wife, children, and friends has been truly life-changing as well,” he continues. “I have some limited lung function now—I’m a little bit slower than I was, but slow and steady is how I get through every day,” Mark says.

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Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is a freelance writer who loves to help others through the written word. She writes about faith and motherhood at her site www.JenBabakhan.com, and loves to inspire others through Instagram, where she can be found @jenbabakhan. You can also find her on Facebook @JenBabakhan, Writer.