October 4, 2022
5
Min read

“My sister’s death changed how I see my company.”

Written By
Simon Dumont
With thanks To
Sançar Sahin | Co-founder and CMO of Oliva

Growing up, Sançar and his sister Asena didn’t always get along:

“Asena was three years older than me, so she’d pull my hair and drag me across the room. We were never that close as kids—just typical siblings.”

But like with many brothers and sisters, the older they got, the smaller the age gap seemed. By the time they were young adults, they realised they actually had quite a bit in common. They’d go to gigs and festivals together, do pub quizzes, or just hang out.

The similarities kept coming as they became thirty-somethings—both decided against the marriage & kids route—but the miles between them also grew. Sançar moved to Barcelona, while Asena got the travel bug. She built a successful career to feed her hunger for exploring new horizons:

“​Asena was fiercely independent. She built the life that she wanted to, she often traveled by herself, and she never waited until the future to do something she wanted to do.”

Despite their independent lives, Sançar and Asena still made an effort to stay in touch regularly and see each other when they could. Asena would visit Barcelona, or Sançar would head up to Leeds where Asena lived between adventures. Both were quietly proud of the life the other had built.

Then one day, Asena went to the doctor with an eye problem.

“It was all really blasé at first”

Some routine eye tests brought no concrete results. So Asena went for an MRI scan. That’s when they found it.

Asena had a meningioma—a slow-growing, benign tumour in her brain. In general, they’re pretty harmless. But Asena’s was in an awkward spot, pushing against her optic nerve. The doctor offered an optional laser surgery. Other than that, they didn’t seem too concerned—so neither was Sançar or the family.

“It was all really blasé at first. The doctors told her not to worry about it, which stopped us thinking it was some kind of shock diagnosis.”

So everyone pretty much carried on as normal. Asena went for a check-up scan a year later—still nothing to worry about. Sançar quit his job to co-found Oliva, inspired by his past experiences of battling burnout and struggling to find the right therapist.

Then—very suddenly—things got serious. 

The following year, another check-up scan revealed that the tumour was now growing a lot faster. Worse, another one had appeared. There was a new sense of urgency—now if they didn’t operate, Asena could go blind within five years. And even if they did, the surgery would be very invasive. It could cause her to have seizures and blackouts for the rest of her life.

Obviously, this news made Asena extremely anxious—which made Sançar anxious:

“She was suffering with this diagnosis, having to navigate it with no partner or family of her own—except for us. My anxiety came from thinking about her dealing with this.” 

<quote-author>Sançar Sahin<quote-author><quote-company>Co-founder & CMO at Oliva<quote-company>

In response, Sançar looked for small ways to reduce her anxiety. He messaged her more. Organised Zoom quizzes with the family. Travel was still difficult due to Covid, but he managed to go visit her.

Over the next few months, Asena spent most of her free time researching her condition and weighing up her options. Sançar and the family helped with this however they could. Every path seemed to carry potentially life-changing negative consequences. 

And then—just as suddenly as the diagnosis changed—a date for surgery appeared. It was in two weeks.

Caught between worlds

Urged on by doctors, Asena decided to commit to the surgery. 

It had a lot of risks. But not having the surgery would leave her blind, no doubt. She figured this was the best option—even if it was far from ideal.

While all this was going on, Sançar was also in the middle of launching his business Oliva. Juggling these two worlds was a strange feeling:

“It was all a bit of a blur, to be honest. I was throwing myself from one end of the spectrum to the other—from very serious life topics, to supporting family, to business as usual.”

On one hand, work helped him switch off a bit during the day and focus on other things. On the other, he felt guilty for not dropping everything to 100% focus on family—even if in reality, there wasn’t much else he could do.

When the surgery day arrived, Covid restrictions meant that Sançar and the family couldn’t even walk into the hospital with Asena. So she took herself in, while everyone else waited—worried about how Asena’s life could change once she woke up.

Hours passed. Then days. Asena never woke up.

Leading while grieving

Sançar struggles to remember many details from the following few days. He and the family spent some time in nature together, before going their separate ways to start coming to terms with their loss.

Back at Oliva, the team—at the time, a tight-knit group of just 10 people—knew something was up.

Sançar had previously dropped a couple of messages in the general Slack channel explaining about his sister’s surgery. He wanted to let people know why he might seem distracted or not himself. 

When he was ready, he posted a new message explaining what had happened to his sister.

Sançar's message to the team.

“Talking about emotional stuff isn’t really my thing one-to-one, let alone with a group. But being a company focused on mental health, it almost gives us more licence to share and be frank about that stuff.”

The team was devastated for Sançar, and offered support in any way they could—which he appreciated. 

But the transparency of the message, the clarity on how the team could help him—and the fact it came from a co-founder—has had a long-lasting impact on Oliva’s culture.

Since then, other Olivans going through family crises have also posted about it in the general channel. People feel comfortable opening up about this stuff and telling others what they need.

“Just being able to put on people's radar that you’re going through something at the moment—then knowing that they’ll understand if you had an off-day or something—really helps.”

The waves of loss

While people often talk about stages of grief, Sançar has found it to be much less linear. He experiences it in waves.

Craving some normality, both him and his other sister ended up returning to work pretty quickly. 

“I think we just didn't know what else to do. We almost went back into normal day-to-day mode. But with this wave of reality hitting us from time to time.”

One thing that’s helped Sançar handle these waves of reality is working from home. Sançar was already working more or less 100% remotely before losing his sister. He thinks this has given him space to deal with the grief whenever it appears.

“I like to process things by myself. I need space and time to think. In a way, working remotely has helped me process things quicker because I have that personal space.”

<quote-author>Sançar Sahin<quote-author><quote-company>Co-founder and CMO of Oliva<quote-company>

The day-to-day bustle of running a startup was also a relief from the emotional pain he was going through. Sançar found that by focusing on other things, he was able to switch off from grieving for short periods.

But his emotions do still catch up to him. Often in the bathroom:

“When I'm alone in the bathroom with the door locked, something about that makes me allow myself to experience different emotions. That’s when I’ll think about my sister the most.”

A new perspective

It’s now been seven months since Asena passed away. But Sançar still hasn’t fully processed it. 

“It still hits me. I don't think I've fully comprehended it. I think that's going to take some time. I could go forever without crying—but at the same time, I could cry on cue. It’s never far away.”

The family have just sold Asena’s house, which represents a bit of closure. In some ways, Sançar thinks the emotional processing is only just starting now the admin is coming to an end.

But the experience has already given him a powerful new sense of perspective—both on his life, and his work:

“If you get a diagnosis like my sister did, you still have to get on with life. You can’t just climb into a hole somewhere. She still had to go to work and manage a team while dealing with this rollercoaster of bad news, good news, more bad news, research… It made me think a lot about why Oliva exists.”

Sançar had co-founded Oliva inspired by his experience of burnout. But now, he felt uniquely aware of the many other things that could affect your mental health at work—whether they originated there or not.

“I realised: wow—employee mental health goes so much deeper than burnout. Way deeper. It’s made me think beyond how I thought of Oliva’s mission before.”



Therapy has been a huge part of helping Sançar cope. Not just since his sister’s death—but before it, too.

“If I was going through this back when I was burning out, I don't think I would’ve coped well at all. I can feel the resilience and emotional maturity I’ve built up during my whole therapy journey.

Sançar thinks his past self would’ve felt extremely guilty about having fun or going back to normality while still grieving. But his present self knows: that’s not what Asena would’ve wanted.

Oliva therapist portrait photo

5 tips for coping with loss

by Oliva therapist

Inmaculada Rodríguez Ángel

1

Be patient with yourself

Every grieving process is different—and so is the time you might need to recover. There are many factors that influence this. For example, it’s not the same to lose someone suddenly as after a long illness. Or to lose an elderly person vs. a young and healthy person. So if you need more time to heal, that’s OK. Be kind to yourself.
2

Don’t shy away from talking about the person

There is a misconception that the less we talk about the loss of a loved one, the less time it’ll take to recover—and the less painful it’ll be. But we should understand that the goal of the grieving process is not to forget the loved one, but to learn to live with their memory in a healthy way. Sharing with your loved ones and getting their support is essential to achieve this.
3

Return to the daily routine ASAP

It's important—and healthy—to get back to your daily routine after losing a loved one. It’ll help focus your thoughts on other activities. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid thinking about the loss, but it’s totally possible to continue living while processing grief. Stopping your life completely increases the chances of depression creeping in. Remember: your loved one would want you to get on with life and be happy.
4

Take care of your physical health

It’s normal for both our mental and physical health to be affected in the early stages of grief. Many people report problems with their appetite, sleep, and physical activity. But even if you don’t feel like it, try to eat healthily and regularly, and to sleep at least 6 hours a night. Doing exercise will help with your appetite and sleep, as well as improve your mood.
5

Follow rituals you connect with

Depending on your beliefs, there will be different rituals when you lose a loved one. Follow those that you identify with, and that you feel will help you the most. A mass, burial, prayer, farewell letter—the rituals associated with loss are part of the process and can be helpful to accept it.
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June 22, 2022
5
Min read

“My sister’s death changed how I see my company.”

Written By
Simon Dumont
With thanks To
Sançar Sahin | Co-founder and CMO of Oliva

Growing up, Sançar and his sister Asena didn’t always get along:

“Asena was three years older than me, so she’d pull my hair and drag me across the room. We were never that close as kids—just typical siblings.”

But like with many brothers and sisters, the older they got, the smaller the age gap seemed. By the time they were young adults, they realised they actually had quite a bit in common. They’d go to gigs and festivals together, do pub quizzes, or just hang out.

The similarities kept coming as they became thirty-somethings—both decided against the marriage & kids route—but the miles between them also grew. Sançar moved to Barcelona, while Asena got the travel bug. She built a successful career to feed her hunger for exploring new horizons:

“​Asena was fiercely independent. She built the life that she wanted to, she often traveled by herself, and she never waited until the future to do something she wanted to do.”

Despite their independent lives, Sançar and Asena still made an effort to stay in touch regularly and see each other when they could. Asena would visit Barcelona, or Sançar would head up to Leeds where Asena lived between adventures. Both were quietly proud of the life the other had built.

Then one day, Asena went to the doctor with an eye problem.

“It was all really blasé at first”

Some routine eye tests brought no concrete results. So Asena went for an MRI scan. That’s when they found it.

Asena had a meningioma—a slow-growing, benign tumour in her brain. In general, they’re pretty harmless. But Asena’s was in an awkward spot, pushing against her optic nerve. The doctor offered an optional laser surgery. Other than that, they didn’t seem too concerned—so neither was Sançar or the family.

“It was all really blasé at first. The doctors told her not to worry about it, which stopped us thinking it was some kind of shock diagnosis.”

So everyone pretty much carried on as normal. Asena went for a check-up scan a year later—still nothing to worry about. Sançar quit his job to co-found Oliva, inspired by his past experiences of battling burnout and struggling to find the right therapist.

Then—very suddenly—things got serious. 

The following year, another check-up scan revealed that the tumour was now growing a lot faster. Worse, another one had appeared. There was a new sense of urgency—now if they didn’t operate, Asena could go blind within five years. And even if they did, the surgery would be very invasive. It could cause her to have seizures and blackouts for the rest of her life.

Obviously, this news made Asena extremely anxious—which made Sançar anxious:

Quote author photograph
“She was suffering with this diagnosis, having to navigate it with no partner or family of her own—except for us. My anxiety came from thinking about her dealing with this.” 

<quote-author>Sançar Sahin<quote-author><quote-company>Co-founder & CMO at Oliva<quote-company>

In response, Sançar looked for small ways to reduce her anxiety. He messaged her more. Organised Zoom quizzes with the family. Travel was still difficult due to Covid, but he managed to go visit her.

Over the next few months, Asena spent most of her free time researching her condition and weighing up her options. Sançar and the family helped with this however they could. Every path seemed to carry potentially life-changing negative consequences. 

And then—just as suddenly as the diagnosis changed—a date for surgery appeared. It was in two weeks.

Caught between worlds

Urged on by doctors, Asena decided to commit to the surgery. 

It had a lot of risks. But not having the surgery would leave her blind, no doubt. She figured this was the best option—even if it was far from ideal.

While all this was going on, Sançar was also in the middle of launching his business Oliva. Juggling these two worlds was a strange feeling:

“It was all a bit of a blur, to be honest. I was throwing myself from one end of the spectrum to the other—from very serious life topics, to supporting family, to business as usual.”

On one hand, work helped him switch off a bit during the day and focus on other things. On the other, he felt guilty for not dropping everything to 100% focus on family—even if in reality, there wasn’t much else he could do.

When the surgery day arrived, Covid restrictions meant that Sançar and the family couldn’t even walk into the hospital with Asena. So she took herself in, while everyone else waited—worried about how Asena’s life could change once she woke up.

Hours passed. Then days. Asena never woke up.

Leading while grieving

Sançar struggles to remember many details from the following few days. He and the family spent some time in nature together, before going their separate ways to start coming to terms with their loss.

Back at Oliva, the team—at the time, a tight-knit group of just 10 people—knew something was up.

Sançar had previously dropped a couple of messages in the general Slack channel explaining about his sister’s surgery. He wanted to let people know why he might seem distracted or not himself. 

When he was ready, he posted a new message explaining what had happened to his sister.

Sançar's message to the team.

“Talking about emotional stuff isn’t really my thing one-to-one, let alone with a group. But being a company focused on mental health, it almost gives us more licence to share and be frank about that stuff.”

The team was devastated for Sançar, and offered support in any way they could—which he appreciated. 

But the transparency of the message, the clarity on how the team could help him—and the fact it came from a co-founder—has had a long-lasting impact on Oliva’s culture.

Since then, other Olivans going through family crises have also posted about it in the general channel. People feel comfortable opening up about this stuff and telling others what they need.

“Just being able to put on people's radar that you’re going through something at the moment—then knowing that they’ll understand if you had an off-day or something—really helps.”

The waves of loss

While people often talk about stages of grief, Sançar has found it to be much less linear. He experiences it in waves.

Craving some normality, both him and his other sister ended up returning to work pretty quickly. 

“I think we just didn't know what else to do. We almost went back into normal day-to-day mode. But with this wave of reality hitting us from time to time.”

One thing that’s helped Sançar handle these waves of reality is working from home. Sançar was already working more or less 100% remotely before losing his sister. He thinks this has given him space to deal with the grief whenever it appears.

quote author photograph
“I like to process things by myself. I need space and time to think. In a way, working remotely has helped me process things quicker because I have that personal space.”

<quote-author>Sançar Sahin<quote-author><quote-company>Co-founder and CMO of Oliva<quote-company>

The day-to-day bustle of running a startup was also a relief from the emotional pain he was going through. Sançar found that by focusing on other things, he was able to switch off from grieving for short periods.

But his emotions do still catch up to him. Often in the bathroom:

“When I'm alone in the bathroom with the door locked, something about that makes me allow myself to experience different emotions. That’s when I’ll think about my sister the most.”

A new perspective

It’s now been seven months since Asena passed away. But Sançar still hasn’t fully processed it. 

“It still hits me. I don't think I've fully comprehended it. I think that's going to take some time. I could go forever without crying—but at the same time, I could cry on cue. It’s never far away.”

The family have just sold Asena’s house, which represents a bit of closure. In some ways, Sançar thinks the emotional processing is only just starting now the admin is coming to an end.

But the experience has already given him a powerful new sense of perspective—both on his life, and his work:

“If you get a diagnosis like my sister did, you still have to get on with life. You can’t just climb into a hole somewhere. She still had to go to work and manage a team while dealing with this rollercoaster of bad news, good news, more bad news, research… It made me think a lot about why Oliva exists.”

Sançar had co-founded Oliva inspired by his experience of burnout. But now, he felt uniquely aware of the many other things that could affect your mental health at work—whether they originated there or not.

“I realised: wow—employee mental health goes so much deeper than burnout. Way deeper. It’s made me think beyond how I thought of Oliva’s mission before.”



Therapy has been a huge part of helping Sançar cope. Not just since his sister’s death—but before it, too.

“If I was going through this back when I was burning out, I don't think I would’ve coped well at all. I can feel the resilience and emotional maturity I’ve built up during my whole therapy journey.

Sançar thinks his past self would’ve felt extremely guilty about having fun or going back to normality while still grieving. But his present self knows: that’s not what Asena would’ve wanted.

Oliva therapist photograph

5 tips for coping with loss

by Oliva therapist

Inmaculada Rodríguez Ángel

1
Be patient with yourself

Every grieving process is different—and so is the time you might need to recover. There are many factors that influence this. For example, it’s not the same to lose someone suddenly as after a long illness. Or to lose an elderly person vs. a young and healthy person. So if you need more time to heal, that’s OK. Be kind to yourself.

2
Don’t shy away from talking about the person

There is a misconception that the less we talk about the loss of a loved one, the less time it’ll take to recover—and the less painful it’ll be. But we should understand that the goal of the grieving process is not to forget the loved one, but to learn to live with their memory in a healthy way. Sharing with your loved ones and getting their support is essential to achieve this.

3
Return to the daily routine ASAP

It's important—and healthy—to get back to your daily routine after losing a loved one. It’ll help focus your thoughts on other activities. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid thinking about the loss, but it’s totally possible to continue living while processing grief. Stopping your life completely increases the chances of depression creeping in. Remember: your loved one would want you to get on with life and be happy.

4
Take care of your physical health

It’s normal for both our mental and physical health to be affected in the early stages of grief. Many people report problems with their appetite, sleep, and physical activity. But even if you don’t feel like it, try to eat healthily and regularly, and to sleep at least 6 hours a night. Doing exercise will help with your appetite and sleep, as well as improve your mood.

5
Follow rituals you connect with

Depending on your beliefs, there will be different rituals when you lose a loved one. Follow those that you identify with, and that you feel will help you the most. A mass, burial, prayer, farewell letter—the rituals associated with loss are part of the process and can be helpful to accept it.

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