Every time I find out I’m not dying, I give myself permission to keep living.

“It’s probably nothing, but…” Dr. Lee said.

The first time it happened was when my mouse ran across the perfect apartment for my next coming-of-age move. You know, the kind of Craigslist ad that uses impeccable grammar so you’re sure that an actual human lives behind the screen, not a send-me-money-now scammer hoping for a wire transfer. (I’m pretty sure transactions like these died with the corded home phone).

Ashley (left).

I still worked in my first job out of college and still cared about loving my office with a door that closed and the way that my business cards puffed up to invite a client to dance the waltz. My new friend slash co-worker came along with me to scope out the Craigslist woman to make sure she wasn’t the next Craigslist killer. Turns out she wasn’t. Her purring cat, Domino, weaved between our legs, his evidence lingering on my black pants after we snuck out for lunch.

“I would love to have you as a roommate!” her email read. I’d spent the afternoon refreshing my inbox every :36 seconds with hopes that she liked me as much as her cat did.

My own bathroom, a spacious closet, and less than a mile from my frou-frou editor job. How could I say no?

“How could I say no?”

I decided to take a few days to figure out if this was the right decision. I crunched the numbers, then I wrote and re-wrote the pros and cons. It was a little over my budget, but totally worth the splurge for the breakfast nook and the safety factor of the top floor.

“It’s probably nothing, but…” Dr. Lee said the next day. My ear, nose, and throat specialist who seems to care about me more than all the other doctors on the roster. After doctors labeled me with an autoimmune disorder when I was 16, these aren’t exactly words I long to hear. “We just have to be extra cautious and make sure it’s nothing.”

“I think I need a little bit more time to decide about moving in,” I typed in the Gmail pop-out window. “Thanks for your understanding and I will keep you updated. Fingers crossed you don’t find someone else!”

But I secretly wished she’d find someone else. I thought I heard the doctors whisper I was dying of lymphoma and that I’d have to move back in with my parents so that they could change my sheets and hold my hair and wipe me after I go to the bathroom. You can’t exactly make a big coming-of-age move if 22 is the year you tap out.

“I thought I heard the doctors whisper I was dying of lymphoma…”

My complexion blanches immediately at even the thought of a needle, and I wind up looking like a sopping Havanese shivering in a thunderstorm. So Dr. Lee arranged for a pretty nurse to send me drifting into the stars for the biopsy of the lymph node. My bedside-clinching parents waited for the news that we should receive the results in five days.

Longest. Five. Days. Ever.

I tried the distraction method, something Oprah and Dr. Oz would certainly shout about as “How to Take Your Mind Off of Death.” I penciled in lunch dates with friends and erased a lot of lunch dates with friends and one I actually decided to attend and I ended up sobbing on the side of Route 70, gripping my left arm, or my right arm, or whichever it is when you’re having a heart attack.


My first panic attack.

Watch this medical responder talk about what he says when people who are dying ask, “Am I going to die?” (Post continues after video.)

Video via TedX

After five days — which is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday if you’re crossing off days on a calendar — comes a weekend. On weekends, doctors turn their phones off. And people usually celebrate these things we call Saturdays and Sundays with margaritas and bon-bons. Most weeks, you can’t dump the Tide and suck up the dust bunnies fast enough before you realize that it’s time to pack your lunch and only a few more hours before you’ll slam your hand on your alarm clock buzzer. But for the panic-attack week, the Saturday and Sunday clobbered me (and my parents) to the ground like the eighty-pound chicken bones in a wrestling match and we all wanted to sob in a ball, maybe even in the middle of Route 70 to run over the misery even faster.

“I hope you weren’t worrying,” Dr. Lee finally said as he shared the results of the biopsy over the phone. Negative.

I give myself permission to keep living.

“No, not at all,” I said. “I’ve been fine.” I decided it was best to leave out the part about Route 70 and the minor heart attack and how I’d pictured tyre marks streaked across my lifeless body.

And that was it: permission to keep living. I wasn’t dying that day, so I could write a check for my security deposit and duct tape boxes and find that little corner desk that would fit perfectly in my new room. No dried up red ink in my editor’s pen after all.

This was only Round 1 of the whole throwing away dreams of that career and that husband, then finding out you’re not dying, then deciding it’s time to keep living. But please, please don’t send me sympathy cards. Every time I bounce off the you’re-not-dying wall, my dreams grow thousands of square feet beyond my first apartment.

Have you ever thought you were going to die or diagnosed with a terminal illness?

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This post was originally published here. You can read more of Ashley’s work on her blog and follow her on Twitter.