Portland MBA alum Sophie Becker: A model of resilience amid adversity

In a time when many are suffering, Sophie Becker (MBA ‘12) offers a hopeful example of resilience. Sophie, who has persevered through medical adversity for years, has a story that is both harrowing and inspiring. 

Sophie is German. Adventurous by nature, she chose to study international business at age 18 because she “wanted to do something international, to learn languages, and travel around the world.” 

She earned her Bachelor of Science in International Business from the ESB Business School in Reutlingen, Germany. After completing the program, ESB students have the option to earn their MBA in one year at a partner university abroad. Portland State’s School of Business and ESB have been partners for over a decade.

Sophie chose The Portland MBA in part because of location: “The city has an incredible vibe and energy of growing and becoming, and I just love that.” 

After graduating, she got a job with a marketing agency, along with a visa that let her stay in the U.S. for a year after graduating. The agency was impressed with her work and applied to sponsor her for a long-term work visa, but as a provision, Sophie would have to return to Germany while the visa was processed.

Sophie never returned to Portland as planned. Back in Germany, Sophie began to experience stomach and back pain. After an ultrasound at the ER, her doctor began with, “Don’t panic . . .” 

Sophie was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis complex, a rare genetic condition where benign tumors grow on her organs. Only approximately 0.00007% to 0.00012% of the population suffer from this illness. Usually, Sophie is not affected day to day, but once the tumors reach a critical size, they can become life threatening. Sophie describes the experience on her blog

Brain, heart, lung, kidneys, eyes, skin, arteries – like clockwork, I now recite this list of my organs and vessels that are affected. Over the past 5 years I have endured multiple kidney operations, had countless procedures, been poked and prodded, treated appallingly by doctors, called things like “a rare butterfly that needs to be added to a collection” (and worse), and survived the mental challenges of it all.

Recently, Sophie’s doctors had bittersweet news: there is a treatment available. It is an immunosuppressant drug considered the best option for reducing tumor size and preventing new tumor growth. However, it has many serious common side effects, including UTIs, fever, and pneumonia. 

This treatment plan was particularly upsetting for Sophie because it prevented her from her goal of traveling the world. It could also mean significant changes in her quality of life. But there was a silver lining: her doctors decided a pandemic was not an ideal time for Sophie to suppress her immune system. Since treatment for her illness is not currently urgent, Sophie’s doctors are offering her a grace period of one year before starting the drug.

Sophie quit her job as a Director of Brand Communications at a German marketing agency and made plans to travel the world. She set up a GoFundMe to help raise money for travel expenses, which has already raised over €11,000. The pandemic means that Sophie’s options for travel are limited right now, but she is drawn to South America as a starting point for its loose travel restrictions and warm temperatures. (Sophie also speaks fluent Spanish.) However, she does not have a firm plan in place; she has applied for visas to many different countries and will form her plans based on the response. 

Sophie is also planning to change her career. She will develop her idea more fully after returning from travel, but is interested in either an app or a consulting practice for individuals who are navigating turbulent life changes. She believes that work that is more closely connected to her experience will be more meaningful to her.

It is unusual to change careers in Germany, and entrepreneurship is not as common as it is in the U.S. Sophie insists The Portland MBA helped her see beyond a corporate business career to one that is flexible and connects her to her passions.

As for whether this choice to quit her job and travel during COVID-19 was difficult to make? Sophie is emphatic that it was not. She says, “It has never felt so right to me. It was the best decision I have ever made.” She added, “Not that I’m grateful for what is happening to my body, but I am thankful to realize that this is the better path for me.”

You can support Sophie by sharing her story, and if you are able, consider supporting her travels with a contribution to her GoFundMe.

Karen Lowe is a 2020 graduate of The Portland MBA. She manages marketing and strategic partnerships for The Give Bin and writes regularly for Portland State’s Graduate Business Blog.

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