For so many, Father's Day means a backyard barbecue and time with family and friends. For me, it's all those things and more. I'm a dad myself to three beautiful girls, and I love the opportunity to celebrate all the great things about being a father. But before I was a dad, I had a dad. A dad I loved. Sadly, I lost him to a devastating and rare lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or "IPF." It's been 14 years, and not a single day goes by that I don't think about him. And every year on Father's Day, the memories of our time together are always a little more pronounced.
My dad was a strong, vibrant man -- and I looked up to him. He was a huge force in shaping my music career, always telling me I could be whomever and whatever I wanted -- and never letting me give up. Ironically, it was just as my career was really taking off that his health started to decline. I'll never forget that first realization that something was really wrong. It was 1996, and he had flown to meet me on a country music tour -- to finally see me perform on the big stage. I was so proud and excited to know he would be there. But when he got off the plane, he doubled over with a prolonged and violent coughing fit that left him unable to catch his breath. From there, things only got worse.
My dad's breathlessness, fatigue and loss of energy progressed to the point where he could barely walk across the room. We took him to doctor after doctor, each one telling us he had something different -- the flu, bronchitis and pneumonia. Still, his health declined further and further. Nothing was working, nothing seemed "right."
Finally -- after three long years of misdiagnosis, we brought him to see a lung specialist -- a pulmonologist, and he was properly diagnosed with IPF. But, by then, he was given just a few more years to live. We were all so devastated -- feeling as though we had "wasted" so much time. Unfortunately, this long, complicated journey to diagnosis is more common than not in people with this deadly lung disease because the telltale symptoms of IPF -- breathlessness from mild physical activity and a dry, persistent cough -- are often confused with more common illnesses like COPD or asthma. 
Given the major impact IPF had on my family -- and so many others, I'm determined to get the word out about the disease and its devastating effects. That's why I am proud to be a part of Breathless: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at IPF, a national campaign that urges people who may have symptoms of IPF to take action to get diagnosed early so they can seek the help they need. I had never heard of IPF before my dad was diagnosed, and I wish at that time there was more education and resources like this campaign offers to families.
But I can't do it alone. I need your help educating and empowering those who may have this disease so that they might not go through what my dad did. Please, take just a few minutes to visit www.BreathlessIPF.com and spread the information there through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube -- someone you know might need this information.
This Father's Day, together, we can make a real difference in people's lives.
1. Raghu G, Collard H, et al. An Official ATS/ERS/JRS/ALAT Statement: Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis: Evidence-based Guidelines for Diagnosis and Management. Am J Respir Crit Care. 2011;183:788-824.