Kerri MacKay
ACMA Member

“I’ve become empowered by changing how I think about my disease. My circumstances and my story help explain me—but asthma doesn’t define me.”

Slow and Unsteady: Diagnosis.

“It was Winter 2008 when I started having issues breathing at a choir event. A friend actually offered me her inhaler! I declined—I didn’t have asthma, though my lungs did feel tight. A few days later, a walk-in clinic doctor told me I had bronchitis. I took antibiotics, but I didn’t get better. A month later, a different walk-in doctor prescribed antibiotics. No good, of course. As my paediatrician had retired, I was stuck: I returned to the walk-in. The second doctor saw me again, and I asked if I could have asthma. He nodded and prescribed a few rescue inhalers.”

My gym class hating days

“When I met my new family doctor six months later, I was a couple months into grade 12. Physical Education had just become mandatory through grade 12 in Manitoba. I was the classic, pain-in-the-butt gym class hating student: I did everything I could to fake it or get out of Phys Ed! Despite now having a diagnosis of asthma, my disease was still uncontrolled. On Halloween 2008, I started my first of what would be many control medication trials. At this point, I realized I likely had exercise induced asthma, at least, for close to a decade! That would probably make anybody hate exercise!”

Bad lungs? Join a dance class.

“Around this time, I started a blog about my asthma experiences. A few friends online started gradually reshaping the physical actiivty hatred in my mind. Despite still feeling negatively towards PE, I found myself in a dance class after dropping first period Law in my last term of high school. I had no idea what I was doing. Dance and I seemed an odd mix given my lack of coordination, never mind my extremely uncontrolled asthma! I worked hard to control my asthma, but even with some medication switches, it was as bad as it was at diagnosis. My dance teacher was the sweetest little lady, and pushed me to just keep trying as my lungs would let me. Dance became a challenge to me. Dance is art, after all—it’s tough to be ‘wrong’! For the first time, I learned I could enjoy physical activity. I felt a positive connection with what my body could do, even if my lungs didn’t work right!”

Choosing better: Asthma control + studying kinesiology

“More than I could say of PE, what I learned in dance class stuck with me. I changed majors often throughout university, then surprised myself when I discovered my love for kinesiology. Yes, that’s basically all about exercise and sport! Through a lot of self-advocacy, I gained better control of my asthma over the course of about four years. I was finally able to enjoy being more active. In a way, having a chronic disease has actually made me healthier!”

The ripple effect: building a team

“Chronicling my asthma online led to a lot of positive changes. My sixteen-year-old self would never have believed that at diagnosis! I have gained amazing friends around the world who also live with this disease–they push me to be better, despite my lungs. My ‘asthma team’ is no longer medical professionals: I am an engaged member of my own team. This fact, at least initially, can be mindboggling and even frustrating to some… and, I am okay with that!

My asthma control remains questionable, but I have become empowered by changing how I think about my disease. I have a choice to own my asthma, and to share my story to help empower others and grow good things! This is what I’ve got. My circumstances and my story help explain me—but asthma doesn’t define me.”