Team Sanofi Coach Sarah M’Barek Talks Cancer and Work

Published on: February 5, 2024


Sarah M’Barek speaking to Sanofian Sonia Dupont

Know when you need support and when you need peace and quiet

My cancer diagnosis impacted me physically, with pain, lack of appetite and exhaustion as well as psychologically coming to the realization that you have cancer and now, you must tell family, friends, and colleagues.

That was the hard part for me because I know I am strong. I know I can push, and I can fight but on the other hand, telling my family, my husband and son – that was very difficult. I told my husband immediately, but I waited to tell my son.

I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and I was told that I had very little chance to survive. At that moment, I didn’t think much about my career but when I look back at that time, in my head, I knew that I was a football coach, that has a whole group – a team and staff to lead.

My players and colleagues brought me tremendous support every day and my goal was to come back to them, to be among them, to get back into competitions, to rediscover those moments, because it was still my passion. I didn't say to myself, it's the end of my career, I acknowledged there was going to be a little break, but that I will come back stronger.

My boss and colleagues were supportive when I explained my cancer diagnosis and that I would be absent for several months. I was fully transparent with them, telling them that I had to devote all my energy to fight.

I didn’t hesitate to laugh, and I didn’t hesitate to talk about my cancer. It’s true that I minimized the drama and I tried to bring some light so that colleagues were not embarrassed to talk about it.
Sarah M’Barek

Sarah M’Barek

I never hid that I had cancer. I even laughed with colleagues about it. Today my hair is still short. It grows but in a difficult way. Aesthetically, its not very pretty but I want to let it grow.

I think we all must open our minds and remove the taboos associated with cancer. While I’m not recognized as someone with cancer as it is no longer in me, I am someone who willingly speaks about it and willing to support others in different places and during different occasions. It’s important to communicate with people who have been through this before.

A supportive work place is key

When you return to work, and you aren’t getting home until 7 or 8PM, that is a long day of engaging with people. I think if employers could offer a quiet, isolated space for employees to rest and recharge during the day, it would be a huge benefit. While it was wonderful to have the support and energy from those around me, it’s just as critical to know when to take time for yourself.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover Sanofi’s "Cancer and Work" program. I find it both "logical" and yet "innovative"!

I believe that Sanofi has fully understood the problems faced by people suffering from serious illnesses, by enabling them to adapt to the various constraints associated with the disease, such as fatigue, loneliness, the side effects of treatment, but also the desire not to be totally isolated from the world of work when possible!

The attentiveness and benevolence of managers thanks to the training they will receive in accompanying employees affected by illness, will represent a source of comfort and a certain form of security. Indeed, having experienced it first-hand, the relationship with work, whether during illness or afterwards when you return, can be very anxiety-provoking...

I managed to get back to work without too much difficulty, but I would have liked to have been able to benefit from such a program.

About Cancer & Work: Acting Together

Navigating a career with a cancer or while caring for a critical ill family member is not easy. To address these complex issues, Sanofi created Cancer & Work: Acting Together. This program created by employees for employees is Sanofi’s 360° approach to care for colleagues with cancer or other critical illnesses within the workplace. It’s a global framework that will make a difference in Sanofians’ lives because it cares for the whole person from a financial, emotional, and social level.

Employees diagnosed with cancer will maintain their job, salary and benefits for up to 12 months - no matter their role or geographical location at Sanofi. They will be able to incorporate flexible work arrangements, which will be adapted based on individual needs, location and nature of their role. They will also have an allowance to cover miscellaneous non-medical expenses. Those caring for a family member impacted by cancer will also have access to flexible work arrangements and various resources to support them as caregivers.