The fight against cancer: an AG priority - AG Employee Benefits
Belgian Foundation Against Cancer

Published on 30/01/2024


The fight against cancer: an AG priority

In the run up to World Cancer Day, which will take place in Belgium and around the world on the 4th of February, AG visited the premises of the Belgian Foundation Against Cancer in Brussels, to talk to Dr. Veronique Le Ray, Medical Director, and Bernard Buntinx, Corporate Fundraising Manager, about the partnership between the two organisations as well as the initiatives in place to support employers and their staff in
dealing with cancer in the workplace. We revisit this exclusive interview. 

In 2024, the Foundation Against Cancer and AG celebrate their 100 years and 200 years of existence respectively, as well as 10 years of working together. What is the nature and aim of this partnership? 

Bernard: The Belgian Foundation Against Cancer has three main aims. AG works with us on all three. For example, AG's staff raise funds by taking part in sporting challenges such as Move4Cancer, and AG's management hosted the last 'Beating Cancer Together' at the AG Campus. This is what makes our partnership with the insurer unique, and mutually beneficial. Move4 Cancer

Specifically, our key aim is to finance scientific research into cancer in Belgium. We raise funds directly for the different academic and research institutions. Our second aim is prevention through our various communication campaigns. For example, campaigns regarding protection against UV (AG provides free sunscreen dispensers on the Belgian coast), or anti-smoking campaigns. Last, but not least, our third aim is to support cancer sufferers and their loved ones. This is where the Reconnect project, which is supported by AG, comes in as part of our Foundation's key initiatives.

What is the Reconnect project? 

B: The aim of Reconnect is to offer employers and their staff a service that ties in with the Foundation's aims. It entails implementing these missions within companies for their staff who need it. 

Specifically, Reconnect is a platform that contains tips and advice for managers and team leaders who have a member of staff with cancer. For example, this platform contains a series of information on how to welcome someone back to work during or after cancer treatment. This is a support tool. Additionally, behind Reconnect, a whole system has been put in place with coaches who provide tailored advice to companies on a case-by-case basis.

We often hear about burn-out in the workplace and yet rarely about cancer. Why the taboo? 

Veronique: Cancer is a very specific case. It makes patients fundamentally re-think their lives, when they are potentially facing their own death, although cancer survival rates have increased considerably, and are now close to 70%, all types of cancer combined. Plus, in our society, we are less accepting when it comes to confronting the reality of death. We are promised eternal youth, and the pain of death is rarely or never discussed. The same parallel clearly exists in the workplace because (with the exception of a few professions) death is almost non-existent.
What are the consequences for employees suffering from cancer? 

V: Firstly, it's worth noting that there are 75,000 new cases of cancer per year in Belgium, 27,000 of which are people of working age. This means that every day, 75 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer. It is important to be aware of this. 

Secondly, we need to understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis is a shock. Ultimately, it is being told you have a long-term illness, but with an unknown outcome. It comes like a bolt from the blue. It also means stopping work straight away and the need for ultra-rapid medical care, with a precise, time-consuming schedule. The treatment can often be debilitating with side effects such as fatigue, nausea and vomiting, or eating disorders leading to reduced mobility and sometimes isolation.

“Reconnect is a support tool for employers and their staff." 

In the case of cancer though, we see that people who return to work fairly quickly when they are still in treatment, often experience a smoother recovery process. Unlike burnout, returning to work during or shortly after treatment can be beneficial, providing structure and boosting self-worth through social interactions. It keeps their spirits up, makes them feel useful and takes their mind off their cancer. This is something that is unique to cancer.

What about employers? 

V: Employers are also faced with a great challenge. In reality, it is likely that at some point, they will have a team member suffering from cancer. Additionally, an employee with cancer acquires additional qualities, which are quite unique: flexibility, a different view on life, a back-to-basics approach, and more resilience and adaptability. Cancer patients also have many questions regarding their employer or colleagues. How should they break the news? Should they talk to their colleagues about it? Can they work during their treatment? Will colleagues be resentful if they take on less work? ​​

The manager and team leader often don't know which way to turn in these situations. Employers have questions too. How do they communicate with this person? Should they feel sorry for them? Should they become more involved? Or on the contrary, take a step back and avoid asking questions? It may seem counter-intuitive, but employers also need guidance on how to appropriately respond to employees with cancer.


That is what makes the Reconnect platform ideal as it responds to the needs of both employers and employees. 

V: We have split its functionalities in two, with on one side being the hard skills, i.e. filing all of the patient's administration all the way from diagnosis, then during treatment, and over the longer term, when planning the return to work. On the other side, we have the soft skills, i.e. swift responses to employers' questions and a list of specialised and certified professional coaches to help them adopt the best possible attitude and plan for the return to work. 

"Cancer is still a taboo in the workplace."

What do you offer in these Reconnect programmes exactly?

V: With Reconnect, we offer one-to-one sessions, but also group coaching sessions. We have seen some people express the need to attend workshops on cancer with colleagues from their company. With the online platform, we leave the choice up to employers and their staff as to which solution they wish to opt for: one-to-one or group sessions. 

During these sessions, we provide tips and advice through different modules that last approximately 30 minutes. They are intentionally short to provide precise and concise answers to the questions asked. It is a clear benefit for employers to offer this type of solution because if an employee's return to work is managed well, this can increase their loyalty, and that of their colleagues, to the company where a return to work during illness is seen as possible. This is truly a win-win situation because the company, its staff and the people around them all encounter definite advantages. To be honest, the process is not always easy, but this is a type of support that was lacking in a sector in which cancer is still taboo.

So, is AG's role key to the platform's visibility? 

B: The partnership between AG and the Foundation is ideal because AG is both a user and sponsor of the platform. This increases awareness and visibility, but also allows us to keep developing new content and keep communicating more. The platform exists because of its usage, even though we obviously wouldn't wish for an employer to ever have to use it in a specific case. However, the tool is certainly needed when the case does arise.

Would you say that prevention and treatment are the Foundation against Cancer's focal points? 

V: These two aspects resonate with how I see medicine. Treatment is one thing but preventing illness is just as important. In my view, the Foundation's role here is to provide holistic care for cancer, and therefore for people diagnosed with cancer, by fulfilling our 3 aims of funding, prevention and support.

Who is Dr. Veronique Le Ray?

  • Veronique Le Ray, doctor and specialist consultant for hospitals and healthcare, has a wealth of experience in the medical field.
  • For seven years, she worked in general and plastic surgery in various hospitals in Belgium and Luxembourg. Motivated by a passion for innovation in healthcare, she has held several managerial roles in healthcare, encompassing clinical, medical, marketing, policy-making and advocacy roles.
  • Currently, the medical director and spokesperson of the Foundation Against Cancer, Dr Veronique Le Ray plays a key role in solving cancer-related problems and promoting advances in healthcare. She is always stressing the importance of screening and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.


Bernard Buntinx bio

  • Spurred on by the positive impact companies can deliver, he joined the Belgian Foundation against Cancer in summer 2023. For the past ten years, he has been working in the field of Fairtrade Certification and sustainable forest management, offering companies the opportunity to get actively involved in the objectives of sustainable development.

  • As a father of 2, he likes to get everyone's creative juices flowing to develop the best projects.