My Employer Intervened When It Mattered Most

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Jane Shaw embarked on a propitious treatment regimen. She has her industry to thank for that.

Johnson & Johnson wants to be the healthiest employer in the world. As part of an holistic approach to health, employees are encouraged to take up regular medical screenings offered as part of comprehensive medical policies. For Jane Shaw, Global Integration Management Office Lead at Actelion Pharmaceuticals, a Janssen company, a routine screening this summer may just have saved her life.

“Medical check-ups are encouraged, and I’ve done this for many years,” she says. “It was at my standard check-up that they discovered a lump in my breast. I consider myself incredibly lucky – which people don't understand, because, if you've got breast cancer, how can you think you're lucky? But because I work for who I do, with these checks it was caught very, very early, and we all know that early diagnosis is critical in survival of all fatal diseases.”

Although Jane had been screened in the UK, she presently works in Switzerland, so on leaving King Edward VII's Hospital in London, immediately rang her employer’s oncology team in Switzerland to find out the best person to lead her treatment in the country. Her colleagues promptly recommended the founder of the Basel Breast Consortium and head of Breast Centre at University Hospital, Basel, Professor Walter P Weber.

“I don't think people working for non-pharma companies would have that luxury,” she says. “I literally wrote to him the next day and said, ‘I have biopsy results coming through to confirm the initial diagnosis of breast cancer.’ Within 10 days I was being operated on and post op treatment underway. Having the oncology group recommend Prof Weber was fantastic and I consider myself lucky again at the speed at which everything has moved. I don't know if things would have moved as fast even privately in the UK.”

Her treatment also coincided with the release of the “TailorX” study results at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual conference in early June. The study determined that far fewer women with breast cancer needed chemotherapy after surgery than had been previously thought. Immediately influencing clinical practice, the announcement meant Jane faced a less challenging treatment regimen, instead having radiation therapy post-surgery. Working throughout her treatment, Jane took just three days off for her surgery.

“The timing of this was brilliant for me as weeks or months earlier I might have ended up having chemotherapy, because I was in the range that previously would have qualified,” she says. “Professor Weber said just a year ago my treatment would have been different”.  

This drove home to Jane the impact of pharmaceutical research on patient’s day-to-day lives, along with outcomes. “Dr Paul Janssen had a saying that ‘The patients are waiting,’ and that’s the mandate everyone at Janssen lives by. I gained an appreciation of what that really means – how the science that pharma companies are developing impacts upon people's lives in a real-time way. This was illuminating to me – literally a study coming out the week when it did, immediately informed my treatment. The trial had been going on for years to get to this result, with the first phases 10 to 15 years ago, so it gave me a real appreciation of the length of time and investment needed.”

An accountant by training, Jane has worked in the consumer and medical device sectors within J&J, before moving into pharma 18 months ago. For her, working in the industry brought an extra layer of support from her colleagues as she became a patient. “The fact that a lot of the people in the next office are medical professionals by training meant I could discuss the science with them. I like to understand the facts and how the various results fit together, so I found it very informative and reassuring having people that I could chat to about that over coffee.”

In turn, she’s found herself giving back to colleagues who have, seeing her open approach to her diagnosis, approached her with questions about their own related health issues. “I've been very open with people about my condition and a lot of women in the organisation have been coming out of the woodwork saying that they have a lump and asking to speak to me. I am finding myself having a bit of a pastoral role for people that are going through what I've been going through.”

While her experiences as a patient are very fresh, its impact is already being felt on her outlook on her pharma work. Her current role focuses on “transformational change” as she manages the integration management office, and co-ordinates global functional leaders across R&D, regulatory, finance and supply chain to ensure the overall integration programme is joined up.

“Even though I'm not in a medical field per se, I think it gives me a greater passion for understanding the importance of focusing on patient-facing departments,” she says. “We need to ensure that they have the resources, the bandwidth and the freedom to pursue what they need to.

“I’m a backroom person, in the engine room of the company, making sure that systems work. These processes are important to free up the people that are at the cutting-edge of science. Ensuring that we’re investing in things which actually affect patients is something that I'm going to be even more passionate about.

“I've never considered myself a victim, or a patient, or a voice,” she adds. “Throughout this whole experience I've considered myself blessed because if you're going to get cancer, you're going to get cancer. But my situation working, for J&J means that actually this is about as positive an experience you could ever get in the circumstances, with the very best experts looking after me, so I think I'm exceptionally lucky.”

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