Working Together For Patients
Sabrina serves as a liaison between Bristol Myers Squibb and patient communities, working closely with colleagues to better understand the science that drives clinical oncology research and how it is evolving from a patient standpoint.
“We’re there to listen to patients. We’re there to collaborate. We’re there to support,” she says.
Sabrina always dreamed of having a cottage by the lake in Quebec where she grew up. Her work with cancer patients inspired her not to wait. She takes advantage of every opportunity to live life there to the fullest—having people over, walking on the beach, kayaking, ice skating and bird watching on the weekends.
Sabrina surrounds herself with family and friends at her cottage by the lake in Quebec. Her mother has 15 siblings, and her father is one of six boys, so there are always aunts, uncles and cousins to gather around the dinner table or go for walks on the beach.
Sabrina credits her father, Richard, a senior corporate executive, for her performance-driven focus and her mother, Micheline, a retired administrative coordinator, for her compassion and desire to help others. Together, they inspire her to work hard and make a difference.
When Sabrina cooks, it’s always a celebration. “I find every excuse to celebrate,” she says, “with my friends and family, with the patient community, with my Bristol Myers Squibb colleagues...I’m known for my contagious energy.”
Sabrina lost both of her grandfathers to cancer, which makes her work with patients even more personal. Here, she and her parents remember times and stories they all shared together.
“I am very moved by patient stories,” says Sabrina. “It can be hard to be so close to so many life and death situations. So I needed to have this peaceful place to reflect on life and my work.”
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 lust for life? “It’s a side effect of my job,” says Sabrina. “You want to live your life to the fullest. Full speed.”
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 first-hand 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 collaborations.”
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 Save Your Skin 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, to better meet patient needs and to become more involved in their own decision-making processes.
“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 cancer. 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.”