True Story: I Got Fired for Being Sick

Lara Govendo avatar

by Lara Govendo |

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I remember what it felt like to get fired for being sick: that pit in the middle of my belly that caused my mouth to go dry, my voice to shake, and my face to flush with shame. Sitting around a table with multiple bosses, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I did a good job, brought value to my clients, and risked my life to work there. They repaid me by “asking me to leave.”

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. As I write this, I’m reliving the pain I experienced during that time. Trauma stores emotions deep within our cells. I feel the twinge of heartache and tears welling up with every word remembered. I can feel the panic, embarrassment, and anger all over again. I can feel the shame that clouded my ability to speak up for myself that day.

It felt like my fault somehow, as if I had control when cystic fibrosis took over. Perhaps it’s the layer of residual shame that still lives within me — the shame that my body determines what I can and cannot do. That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when my mind wants to go farther than my body can carry me most days.

The joys of home IVs, back in the day. (Photo by Lara Govendo)

In 2014 I got hit with pneumonia three times in the span of three months. I was hooked to an IV through my sweater at work, pumping my veins full of antibiotics in hopes of being able to breathe again. It was clearly the season for pneumonia, as other co-workers had been hit, too. They told me it took them months to bounce back to normal. Little did anyone know I was already breathing at a deficit: I’d kept my disease secret.

I worked as a school social worker through a nonprofit that specialized in working with individuals with disabilities. The irony is not lost on me: I was fired for bearing the very burden they pledged to support. I came back early from my last hospital stay that season so I could finish out the school year with my students. Still on IVs, I cranked out paperwork and final visits despite my chaotic sleep schedule and pure exhaustion.

The school’s principal informed my supervisor: We don’t give pity interviews. Both of my higher-up bosses stared at me blankly, unable to comprehend why I didn’t meet the attendance policy. Apparently, hospitalizations weren’t excused absences. They “allowed” me to work through the summer because they didn’t have anyone else. Their attitude of “doing me a favor” left me bitter.

Cue the hospital perturbed “over it” face. (Photo by Lara Govendo)

This organization reinforced why I chose to hide my disease from employers. Making me feel like I have to hide this part of me that I can’t control screams shame. I didn’t know how to articulate that CF is an unpredictable beast that rears its ugly head without a moment’s notice. Nor did I know how to advocate for myself at the time. I was timid and afraid of standing up to “authority” figures, especially ones who were signing my paychecks. It didn’t help that I felt “less than” able-bodied people because of CF.

If I could turn back time, I would teach them how to speak to individuals with disabilities. I would show them my scars and how proud I am to bear them. I would change their limited perception of people who don’t fit their mold. I would quit the place that broke me before they had the chance to write me off for being sick.

Here’s what I know: Knowledge is power. Wisdom is valuable. Understanding is priceless. Know your rights. Trust your instincts. Channel your inner advocate. I no longer have the luxury of being silent anymore. I cannot stand by while talented individuals who happen to have disabilities are not chosen over the able-bodied. There is a stronger force driving me to speak up for those that won’t for themselves.

Shame is sneaky. It tells you the lie that we will never measure up. Those of us with chronic illness feel like we are already operating at a deficit. Competing with able-bodied individuals makes it so we never feel good enough to qualify.

Although, we don’t have to engage in competition. We can invite others into our secret worlds enough to see how truly valuable we are. I challenge you all to allow your unique gifts to be seen – as we are all an intricate piece of the divine puzzle.

To the able-bodied: I pray you give us the opportunity to prove all your preconceived notions wrong.

To the rest of us: I pray you know your worth, fight for equality, and speak up even if your voice shakes.

It’s our time to shine. Let’s rise up together and show the world what we’re made of: bravery, brilliance, and badassery packaged as “differently abled.”


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


John Schroeder avatar

John Schroeder

WOW! Wonderful but VERY SAD story, Lara. Hard to believe it can happen in the 21st century! My daughter, Ann, had mostly strong support from her employers in the 1990's and early 2000's. I said mostly, because there were individuals who behaved like Neanderthals, saying things like "You have to improve your attitude!" and "A positive attitude will help you overcome this!" She started to turn inward and question herself. But then realized they were TOTALLY wrong! Her attitude was great and living with a positive attitude about her CF helped her a lot. But CF is CF. It knocks you down sometimes. With the right "attitude" as in recognizing that you are sick and getting good medical assistance, and TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF while sick, you can often get back to where you were. Not always, unfortunately.

There are still those vulnerable times and, employers, especially an organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities, have to understand that, and the Americans with Disabilities Act definitely is on the side of people with disabilities. It's shocking that your employer didn't "get it," and didn't see you as a person with a disability, but as someone who maybe didn't take good care of herself and got sick often.

I like your use of "badassery"! Great word! And VERY POSITIVE! Believe in your "badassery" and your "differently abled" self and you can define your own life, instead of taking the definitions delivered by the total opposite of truly badass people.

Good luck Lara, and, as Spock used to say, "Live Long and Prosper!"

Lara Govendo avatar

Lara Govendo

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, John, it really means a lot to me. I so appreciate that you "get it" and am also sad that your daughter had to experience unkind words, too. It cuts us to the core. You described that so beautifully and hit the nail on the head. It's difficult when others haven't experienced what we have for them to understand, unfortunately. Thank you for your encouraging words - such a timely reminder. Badasses unite, right? LOVE the Spock saying, I'll have to put that on a post-it and read it often! All the best to you and your family.

Kaylah avatar


Lara, this resonated so much in my experiences. Thank you.

Lara Govendo avatar

Lara Govendo

I'm grateful this resonated with you Kaylah, and also sorry you've had to endure experiences like this. Sending you hugs.

Maggie Brewer avatar

Maggie Brewer

Thank you for sharing your experiences in this article Lara. I am sorry that you had to go through that. It is not right that you had to. But all of that is behind you and you can be all you can be and help encourage others with your life story and experiences. This article will do just that! Love you MUCH..Shine on! Maggie

Lara Govendo avatar

Lara Govendo

Thank you for always supporting and encouraging me to share my story to help others. It means so much to know you are on this journey with me. Hugs!


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