Meet Sabrina - Patient Advocacy
Bristol-Myers Squibb Canada
Living Life at “Full Speed”:
Working with Cancer Patients Inspires Sabrina to Live Life to the Fullest
Sabrina’s cottage on a lake in Quebec is always full of people. While she’s busy living in the city, working at Bristol-Myers Squibb and traveling for her job, she makes sure to spend as many weekends as possible cooking for her large extended family and friends at a getaway she has treasured for years.
An active outdoors enthusiast, Sabrina kayaks in warm weather, ice skates and skies in the winter, and takes long walks to indulge her love of bird watching. In quiet moments, you might find her stretched out on a lounge chair on a dock overlooking a seemingly endless lake. She is probably thinking about her work with cancer communities and the patients who are fighting their bouts with cancer.
The source of her love for life? “It’s a side effect of my job,” says Sabrina. “You want to live your life to the fullest. Full speed.”
“We are all connected to someone who has lost someone to cancer.”
Her passionate transformation had friends and family wondering. She describes a conversation with her mother, who at one point thought Sabrina’s new energy and enthusiasm might be masking a serious problem
“My Mom said to me, ‘What is going on? Are you sick? You’re so desperate to live.’”
“At first I thought I might be trying to maximize life because I was about to turn 40!” recalls Sabrina, laughing. “And then I said, ‘No, it’s Bristol-Myers Squibb!’ It’s working with cancer patients. There is no training for that. When I hear about a patient who is 45 and has four kids, it’s really heartbreaking. We hear cancer is an old people disease,” she says. “It’s not.”
An Evolving Patient Community (and Passion for It)
Sabrina calls herself “the lucky one,” to be part of what Bristol-Myers Squibb is doing in cancer research. Her passion for her current role, not to mention her career as a whole, has also evolved.
She found her calling early on, beginning with her first job in public affairs at 20. She worked in biotech at a health center, witnessing firsthand how research and science make a difference in people’s lives; she fell in love.
Then at 22, she began working in communications for a large pharmaceutical company. “I felt so privileged working in such a demanding and exciting area that can help make such a difference in patients’ lives—working with bright, intelligent people who are so devoted,” says Sabrina. “That passion level, which is contagious in this industry, made me want to stay.”
Sabrina’s passion for helping patients grew along with her roles leading public affairs at several other pharmaceutical companies. She recalls how 10 years ago, when teams were just starting to reach out to patient communities for testimonials, their primary motivation was to gather stories for launching campaigns. She joined Bristol-Myers Squibb in 2010 because she knew there was something deeper.
“Five years ago, when I transitioned into my current role, we knew we needed to start partnering with the patient communities,” says Sabrina. “So we started reaching out to them to build long-term collaboration.”
Sabrina first met Kathy, a cancer survivor and patient advocate, at a time when information and support from other patients was sparse. All Kathy could find was material about how to avoid the disease and advice on palliative care (quality of life care given to patients whose illnesses are deemed terminal).
Kathy went on to start a foundation dedicated to educating and empowering patient communities. Her foundation serves as a model for others seeking to partner with healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies to learn more about clinical trials and the latest in cancer research, better meet patient needs, and become more involved in their own decision-making process. “
“These patient communities are still evolving,” says Sabrina. “In addition to the vital support they are providing to patients, they are engaging with physicians and with the pharma industry to determine how they can interact with decision makers and contribute to strategy. They are partnering with us to add the voice of the patient to decision making.”
A Job that “Transforms” Her Life
“When I joined Bristol-Myers Squibb, I knew it was a good company,” says Sabrina. “I was excited about the job. I was excited about the challenges. I didn’t realize this job would not only be the best job of my life, but a job that transforms my life!”
Sabrina travels throughout Canada, interacting with patient organizations, many of which are led by patients affected by the disease. Her job, she says, is to make sure Bristol-Myers Squib doesn’t work in a bubble.
“We want to be patient-centric, and those communities are patient experts,” says Sabrina. “We should partner with them to better understand their needs and their reality. We should all be working together.”
A Personal Purpose
Sabrina lost both of her grandfathers to cancer. “It is always in our life,” says Sabrina. “We are all connected to someone who has lost someone to cancer.” Being surrounded by patients who are fighters, who are desperate to have options and want to live, makes her realize how fragile life is.
“They’re talking about bucket lists,” says Sabrina. “The ones who went through the journey and survived want to share how important it is to be empowered in our lives. Obviously their passion for life has been contagious; contagious for me and for the teams at Bristol-Myers Squibb.”
“In 20 years, when I look back, I’ll know that this period was the best time in my career.” She adds, “Obviously my work is quite special. I really am the lucky one.”