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.
“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>
“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.