A Full-Circle Journey With Asthma

Charmayne Anderson shares her story of lifelong asthma

This article is part of Health Divide: Asthma in People of Color, a destination in our Health Divide series.

Headshot of Charmayne Anderson

Photo courtesy of Charmayne Anderson / Designed by Zoe Hansen / Verywell

I recognized my asthma when I was a very young child. I recall having asthma attacks that required immediate action. My parents and I would have to get in the car and go to the hospital because treatment options were limited at the time. There weren’t a large variety of treatments like there are today.

Because rescue inhalers weren’t available to me, every attack was an emergency that required urgent treatment in a hospital environment.

I have vivid memories of these emergencies. Doctors would have to administer epinephrine shots to resolve my symptoms. That was the only way to get relief. As I got older, nebulizer treatments became available, and then eventually inhalers.

I would have asthma attacks at school, where emergency medication wasn’t available to me. Now kids can carry inhalers in school and the schools keep medicine on hand.

I don’t know if anyone in my family history had asthma because I’m adopted. So, I don’t have access to my family medical history to know if this runs in my family.

Asthma Triggers in My Environment

I do know that there were asthma triggers in the environment I was living in as a child.

I lived in an apartment with wall-to-wall carpeting. We had a pet dog, and my mother smoked. I also spent a lot of time outside in our apartment complex, playing with other kids, breathing in the seasonal pollen. So all of these factors would have exacerbated my asthma.

Back then, there was no real education about asthma triggers or how cigarette smoke influenced asthma. However, my mother did quit smoking after seeing how it affected my health.

Charmayne Anderson

Fear of dying was always in my head as a young person.

— Charmayne Anderson

Once I understood these triggers, I struggled. I had to limit my time outside, or I would miss school because I had an attack. It was limiting my life in many ways.

Even to this day, I still have fear about asthma, though not to the degree that I did as a young person. But anyone with asthma gets terrified during an attack, when you can’t breathe. Fear of dying was always in my head as a young person.

Passing It Down

My children also have asthma. I was scared when they were diagnosed, because I knew they were going to have a challenging journey living with this condition. I’ve taught them to always have their inhaler with them and to know where you can get access to medical treatment if needed.

I see them go through the same experiences I had and experience a similar level of anxiety. My children’s asthma is much more controlled than mine was, because they have more treatment options available.

But I see the anxiety that kicks in when you’re not able to breathe, and when the treatments aren’t working as quickly as you would have thought, or if you’re overusing your fast-acting inhaler. There’s an intense anxiety and fear of death, because when you can’t breathe, you feel like you’re going to die.

You learn and grow a lot by having this condition. As a mom with asthma, I want to know my kids can manage it on their own.

Advocating for the Asthma Community

I now work as the director of advocacy for the Allergy & Asthma Network (AAN), but my journey to get there has been a full-circle experience.

I started my career in government affairs after having interned on Capitol Hill. That experience showed me that I really wanted to shape policy and improve people’s lives.

In my work, I represented local government and small communities. Our goal was to better these communities in order for their constituents to live healthy lives with a good quality of life. That included affordable housing communities, public safety, and more.

I always wondered why God placed asthma in my life and my children’s lives. I was already a big supporter of volunteer work, so I decided to volunteer in areas that touched my life, like asthma.

Charmayne Anderson

My journey with asthma has been an evolution and a truly full-circle experience.

— Charmayne Anderson

I started doing research on asthma organizations and stumbled upon Allergy & Asthma Network. I reached out about volunteering and they called me back to say the CEO wanted to speak with me about an open government affairs position. That was six years ago. I’ve been with AAN ever since.

My journey with asthma has been an evolution and a truly full-circle experience. What I do is so purposeful. It doesn’t really feel like work. Because I’ve lived with this disease for my entire life, I’m so grateful to be able to do what I do: educating and advocating for others, talking about my own personal experience, and shaping policy to support patients. It’s fascinating.

A really special part of my work is sharing my story with others going through similar experiences, especially in minority communities, where asthma can be prevalent. It’s important to talk to them about how best to manage their condition and adhere to their medications.

Living With Asthma During the Pandemic

Living with asthma during the pandemic has been very scary. Because of my asthma, I was afraid that if I got COVID-19, I’d be at greater risk of complications or even dying if I were to contract the virus.

One thing I’ve learned as an adult with asthmatic children is I don’t want my kids to live a life of fear. I want to show them how you can turn fear on its head. With the pandemic, I learned to be more diligent about protecting myself. I made sure I had all my personal protective equipment (PPE), had my asthma medicine to maintain my medication regimen, and certainly to get vaccinated and encourage everyone around me to get vaccinated.

Charmayne Anderson

Living with asthma during the pandemic has been very scary. I was afraid that if I got COVID-19, I’d be at greater risk of complications or even dying.

— Charmayne Anderson

All those things helped calm my fears. I was being proactive about protecting myself. I made sure that the people around me, who I loved, were doing the same. They understood where I was coming from by making those requests with them—not that they weren’t going to do it anyway, but just to show them how something like COVID-19 could really impact my life.

What I’ve Learned From Having Asthma

I never thought I’d be at a point in my life where I’d have a platform like this to talk about asthma. My goal is to increase the level of understanding about the disease. I really want to focus on underserved communities and people that look like me.

I encourage the community to not limit themselves from doing anything they are interested in pursuing just because they have asthma, because there were definitely times in my life growing up where I limited myself out of fear of potentially having an episode.

But once I got to a point where I was able to manage it, I found that my life was just as rich as the next person who didn’t have asthma. We all can live healthy and productive lives. We just need to be vigilant.