The Unexpected Lesson

Posted by: 
Ashlee McDougall

There are moments in life that have the opportunity to define you, if you let them. For me, there is one in particular that I have carried, ingrained in my being so deep that I thought it was impossible to let it go. This moment occurred while I was in grade school when a teacher assigned me an essay on cystic fibrosis. At the time, I didn’t think much of the assignment. When I began my research, I found I had an expiration date. I found that my age expectancy was under 20 years. My life froze, my heart broke, and I filled with fear. I called my mom sobbing because it was the first time that I had to face the reality of my death. Looking back, it was that moment that defined me. I carried that sorrow with me like a fresh pearl, shimmering in all its glory. Beautiful, yet fragile, I became a shell of a person because I was unable to live in the present. I was too focused on the “what ifs” and the idea of living with a terminal illness.

-Fast forward roughly twenty years-

As I sat awaiting the news of my husband’s emergency open-heart surgery, I realized the fear I had carried for decades was useless. Instead of the protecting myself against unnecessary grief and heartache, I had only created more suffering. That singular moment in my life had burnt a piece of me, and I had carried that pearl with me ever since that day. I polished it every time I stopped myself from living because of fear that I might die. Instead of letting the lung disease suffocate me, I had constricted my life enough to miss out on moments of beauty, purely out of fear. It took almost losing the love of my life to teach me this invaluable lesson. Fear stopped me from living and cystic fibrosis didn’t rob me of pleasure. I did.

Across social media, I see the exact same message from most people with this disease, stating they were only supposed to live to a certain age. In theory, it seems that we are all connected in this same fear. The fear of knowing our death. This fear is in almost everything we do, from pretending to be a younger age, deciding not to skydive, or simply missing out on the joy life provides. But what happens if we stop living in the future and just focus on today? For me, the terror relinquishes its hold, and I can notice the subtle magic that is in play. I can focus on how I’m actually feeling in that moment. I can ask myself: am I feeling healthy today or do I need extra rest? Because the reality of the matter is we will all die, but it doesn’t have to be today. Even if it is today, do you really want to leave this world without having spent a single moment actually living?

I’m thankful for this lesson that I had to learn in such a cruel way. My heart aches for the children who will also learn that cystic fibrosis adds extra challenges to their lives. I pray that they can find ease in knowing that they are alive. To live means you and I will suffer, but through that pain there will always be beauty and love. There is no need to carry around that pearl of fear. I have decided to step into the present and lay down the shimmering jewel. I choose to be here now. I choose to experience every day with as much gratitude that I can muster.

Live is worth living. Don’t miss out.


Help Others Live STRONGER and LONGER-




Ashlee is 29 years old and lives in Reno, Nevada and is a past Grant Recipient of multiple CFLF Recreation Grants. She is a yoga teacher and enjoys spreading knowledge on health and wellness. If you have any questions please don't hesitate to reach out to her at








***Views expressed in the CFLF Blog are those of the bloggers themselves and not necessarily of the Cystic Fibrosis Lifestyle Foundation*** 

***Please speak with your physician before making any changes to your CF management***


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