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What Rita Learned from Her Recent Health Scare

SOS Board Member Rita Drobnis was bold enough to share her story about a recent personal health challenge.

We hope our readers can apply some of her learnings to their own lives and become more comfortable admitting to themselves and others when health challenges impact their work and lives.

What happened, Rita?

"My last Pap smear came back positive for HPV.  I didn’t think much about it because this wasn’t the first time that it had happened. As a follow-up, my doctor scheduled a colposcopy, a procedure where the doctor does a more in-depth Pap smear and takes biopsies for further testing.  

I received a phone call and written message from my doctor advising that one of three biopsies came back positive for high-grade precancerous cervical cancer, and she recommended a LEEP procedure, which meant she needed to remove the infected part of my cervix. I had no idea what this would entail. I admit that doing a bit of Googling and what I read made it sound like it was a pretty easy procedure. Which I now know isn't true.

Once I understood what I had just learned, I needed to devise a game plan. Who do I tell? What do I say? How will this impact my life and our future plans?

I started with my personal life and shared it with my family and inner circle of friends. As expected, everyone was AMAZING, especially my husband.  I knew that whatever the result of this next procedure, I would be surrounded by love."

But What About Work?

"I struggled with how much I could/should share and with whom.  My team is predominantly men, so using the word 'cervical' felt uncomfortable.

Thankfully, my leader is a woman; however, we didn't necessarily have the level of relationship where I could just blurt it out. For those that know me well, know that I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I have a habit of sharing more than I should. 

I had a million thoughts going on in my head:

Is this going to taint their perception of me? Will this make me look weak?
I am in the process of looking for a new role. Will someone hold this against me?
How do I manage my highly intense/stressful job and try to heal? 


At the end of my overthinking episode,  I made the decision to be true to myself and call it what it is. I am not ashamed or embarrassed. I am human, female and 58 years old.  In the end, my leader was supportive. She said all the 'right' things.  Take care of yourself. Don't worry about work (yeah, right). I made the decision NOT to blurt it out to my team. Some asked me privately if I was okay, and because of my relationships with them, I felt comfortable sharing the news.

Maintaining focus continues to be TOUGH! When I got the news, I was sitting in a hotel room in San Francisco. I had just arrived in town for a whole week of meetings.  I panicked and called my husband.  I didn’t know if I should go home or if I should stay and move forward with my meetings. Thankfully, I have the gift of compartmentalization. I decided to stay and work as planned."

What About After Your Treatment?

"Although it's been over a week since I had the LEEP procedure. I continue to heal. I experienced a little bit of a setback and now am re-evaluating my self-care.  

Under doctors' orders, I cannot lift anything, which prevents me from traveling overnight. Who is going to lift my suitcase? I am the ultimate overpacker!

However, I can sit at my desk and manage my team remotely until I am ready to get back on the road. "


What Can Others Take Away From Your Story?

"There are so many things I would have done differently, and in the end, I hope others will learn this from my experience:

  1. Make yourself a priority. Take the time to heal. Do not rush back to work.

  2. Do your own research. although I did not do much research, I felt like the medical community minimizes true recovery time. I was told not to do anything strenuous for the first week, not to lift anything heavy, not to take a bath, have sex, or immerse my body in any water. What they didn't share with me was that walking up and down the stairs or standing for a long period of time could cause the healing to slow down.

  3. Everybody heals differently. I really thought I would be fine after a few days. However, based on my setback, I realize it's going to take a little longer than I had anticipated."

Thank you, Rita, for your candor and fearlessness. We hope you continue to mend!

P.S. We just got some great news from Rita! The pre-cancerous cells were all removed and she doesn't need further treatment...just a one-year follow-up. Although the recovery was tough, the outcome is positive!

Have a story you'd like to share with our SOS readers? Please reach out to us

with the subject line: SOS Story. Not a writer? No problem? We can interview you and ghostwrite it for you!

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