When Employees Are Patients

September 06, 2019

Editor’s note: In recognition of Global Patient Week, held annually across Bristol-Myers Squibb to celebrate the company’s patient-focused culture, employees discuss how their own battle with disease and the support they received from their co-workers has served to strengthen their commitment to the company’s mission.

H

ow does it feel when those who work for patients every day become patients themselves?

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s 24,000 colleagues keep patients at the center of everything they do in their professional lives yet it can be overwhelming to learn that they too are fighting an illness.

Having a personal experience with disease can often be very motivating for colleagues. Many say it serves to strengthen their commitment to help improve the health of others. In some cases, it’s even inspired individuals to apply for jobs at Bristol-Myers Squibb so they can focus their careers on finding new treatment options for unmet medical needs.

During Global Patient Week 2019, co-workers like Stan and Renee are sharing their stories. 

Stanley Krystek, Jr., Ph.D., Research Fellow, Drug Discovery Research

Stan Krystek, continues to help other co-workers learn about the Bristol-Myers Squibb support programs available for all employees facing a serious diagnosis.

Stan Krystek, continues to help other co-workers learn about the Bristol-Myers Squibb support programs available for all employees facing a serious diagnosis.

I think getting cancer and being here today to talk to others is changing the way I do my job every day.

Stan Krystek was always active. He maintained his black belt in Tae Kwon Do, was a regular in the fitness center, went horseback riding and hiked trails around the U.S. on family vacations. So after he found himself struggling behind his wife and children to climb up Mount Washington in New Hampshire, he recognized something was off and decided to get checked out. 

He was stunned when the results came back as stage 3 cancer. His life changed. Telling his family was the hardest part of the diagnosis. He sat down and wrote heartfelt letters to his wife and children “just in case.”

Then his thoughts turned to his co-workers. Stan joined Bristol-Myers Squibb right after completing his doctorate degree in 1989. Today, he works as a research fellow in Drug Discovery Research.  He’s spent his 30-year career hunting for ways to unlock cures to some of the most difficult diseases, including cancer. He had been in pursuit of this devastating illness his entire professional life and suddenly, he was facing it head on. He wasn’t sure how he would be able to still do the work he loved.

One of the first people Stan talked to at work was Pat Newman, a project coordinator with R&D Learning. "Stan is not the first Bristol-Myers Squibb employee to become a patient, but each time it happens it sharpens our core mission," she said recently.

“It really focuses your attention on the purpose of your job,” she recalled. “It reinforced my dedication to do the best job that I could possibly do.”

In fact, Stan’s entire department looked for ways to support him during six months of treatments. They adjusted the temperature in his work area; installed extra hand-sanitizers throughout his department; scaled back his in-office hours, picked up extra assignments and shuttled him to the office.

When he was done treatments, the department celebrated his success and recovery. They even donated an infusion chair in Stan’s name to the cancer center where he was treated. Finally, they presented him with a plaque reading “Who Are You Working For?" Stan. It featured the faces of dozens of his R&D colleagues from Bristol-Myers Squibb sites across the U.S.

“That picture was the greatest! I was humbled by the ways my colleagues assisted me,” he recalls.

Since then, Stan has been invited by colleagues across the company to speak at events to share his experience and talk about what it’s like to be a patient and researcher in R&D. His story and video will be highlighted this year as part of the company-wide Global Patient Week celebration.

Stan continues to help other co-workers learn about the Bristol-Myers Squibb support programs available for all employees facing a serious diagnosis. Patients are at the center of the corporate mission to discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines to help patients prevail over serious diseases. 

Programs to Support Employee-Patients

Dr. David Shepperly, leader of Employee Health and Fitness, is another person at Bristol-Myers Squibb who helps to increase the visibility of services and benefits available to employees directly affected by cancer -- either as patients or caregivers. In the U.S., this includes mammography vans that visit the workplace, onsite skin and head and neck cancer screenings, and a resource webpage called “What if I have Cancer?” to address common questions.  

Globally, the company provides counseling to help smokers kick the habit as part of a Tobacco-Free Workplace.  Additionally, healthy choices are offered in all cafeterias.  These are just a few of the well-being programs that helped Bristol-Myers Squibb earn the CEO Cancer Gold Standard accreditation in the U.S. and China.  This accreditation recognizes the efforts of companies committed to reducing the risk of cancer among their employees and family members.

From his experience, Stan sees a possible new way to assist Bristol-Myers Squibb co-workers who suddenly become oncology patients. He’s talking with other employees affected by cancer about forming a support group to share experiences and medical resources for the newly diagnosed. 

“I wouldn’t change this journey,” Stan says reflecting on his treatments and then advocacy work after. “I think getting cancer and being here today to talk to others is changing the way I do my job every day."

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Renee Hicks, IT Global Manufacturing Systems

Renee Hicks, a data modeler and senior database developer in Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Information Technology team.

Renee Hicks, a data modeler and senior database developer in Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Information Technology team.

I had been told that I had cancer before but this time was different.

Renee Hicks, a data modeler and senior database developer in Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Information Technology team, used to think cancer would never happen to her.  Now, in 2019, she’s a three-time cancer survivor and has a personal mission to encourage everyone she meets to get tested and wear sunscreen. 

When Renee was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in 2015, she didn’t think much of the disease. Her doctor was able to remove the slow-growing cancer, and Renee was ready to go about her life without having to receive any additional treatment. 

Then two years later, Renee received a second cancer diagnosis after her hairdresser found a large bruise on the back of her head. A biopsy by her dermatologist confirmed it was melanoma. “I felt like I had been punched in the gut,” Renee remembers. Shortly after her diagnosis, she underwent four surgeries over seven weeks before being declared cancer-free.

It was during this time Renee learned of a program that conducts genetic testing to determine a person’s risk for various diseases based on their family history. Following the hour and a half interview and genetic testing on 80 of her genes, Renee was diagnosed with a genetic mutation making her more susceptible to various cancers. The program recommended that Renee receive certain annual tests to stay on top of her health. In 2018, her annual mammogram found early stages of breast cancer. 

“I had been told that I had cancer before but this time was different,” Renee recalled, “when you have breast cancer, you’re not only afraid of the cancer, but you’re afraid of losing your femininity.”

After sharing her diagnosis with her friends and colleagues, she was overwhelmed by the support she received. Her colleagues were quick to offer advice and recommend resources while being flexible to her work schedule, and her friends drove her to appointments and ensured that she and her family had home-cooked meals every night.

Now Renee is moving from “has cancer” to “had cancer.” Each cancer survivor has a different story, and understanding their needs begins with recognizing survivorship as an ongoing process. Today, Renee is a survivor and in addition to her ongoing testing to remain cancer-free, she is making strides to educate her colleagues and friends about the importance of early testing. As a survivor, Renee has a deeper connection to the patients Bristol-Myers Squibb serves, and she hopes that sharing her story will encourage others to be proactive about their health.

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