First Person: Pamela Soberman, MBA ’15

A Positive Previvor
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BY PAMELA SOBERMAN, MBA ’15

This summer after graduation, I chose to undergo a preventive double mastectomy and breast reconstruction, not your typical post-MBA plans.

A few years ago, I found out that I had the BRCA1 gene mutation and an 88 percent chance of having breast cancer in my lifetime. My mother and grandmother, who also have BRCA1, were diagnosed with breast cancer when they were in their early 30s. As a woman in my late 20s, I felt the timing was right to take a pre-emptive strike against breast cancer with this procedure. Little did I know that my time at Ross would impact this experience.

After scheduling the surgery, I very clearly remember sitting in Professor Kim Cameron’s Navigating Change class and hearing all the research behind the power of positive thinking. More specifically, he mentioned that patients with a positive attitude recover faster after surgery. Obviously, this struck a personal note with me, and I started to think: How could I approach this experience, something that could be seen as terrible and traumatizing, with a positive attitude? How could I maintain a positive attitude during the three-month reconstruction and recovery process, and how could I leverage this experience to have a positive impact on others?

I doubt I would have asked myself these questions if I did not attend Ross. Ross had fundamentally shifted my mindset to think, well, positive.

So I decided to start a blog to chronicle my surgery and recovery. By publicly blogging about my experience, I held myself personally accountable for maintaining a positive attitude, and I hoped to help other young women with the BRCA1 gene mutation as they contemplated their choices. After brainstorming different titles for my blog, I settled on “Positive Previvor” (women who undergo preventive double mastectomies are called “breast cancer previvors”) to signal my commitment that I was going into this experience with a positive mindset. I started each blog by sharing something I was grateful for; the power of gratitude was another lesson I learned at Ross.

Six weeks after my surgery and 10 blog posts later, I can tell you that the positive approach I learned at Ross dramatically affected my recovery. While it was not the best summer of my life and there were a couple of not-so-great weeks, my overall recovery has been better than expected and I’m very happy with my decision. Most importantly, other young women with the BRCA1 gene have already reached out to me after seeing my blog. Knowing that I am helping others has been incredibly fulfilling.

A Positive Life

Another major takeaway I learned from Ross is that if you put out positive energy, it will return to you. The amount of support I received from my blog has been shocking and overwhelming. People from all different chapters of my life have reached out to me, and it definitely helped me through my low moments. In particular, the Ross community has gone above and beyond, sending me messages, emails, cards, gifts, and even helping me move across the country. At Ross, it is the norm to help and support each other, which is a distinguishing characteristic of the school. I mean, what other business school would organize a month of gratitude where students send more than a thousand thank-you notes to each other?!

I believe that Ross’ unique culture of community support stems from our focus on positive business. I am incredibly grateful for my experience at Ross for so many reasons — for helping me land my post-MBA dream job at Microsoft, for developing me into a better leader, for providing new lifelong friendships — but most of all, for teaching me about the power of having a positive approach to life.

When researching different business schools as a prospective student, I chose to apply to Ross because of its excellent reputation, strong alumni network, impressive job placement, and most importantly, because of the wonderful students and alumni I interacted with during the application process. To be perfectly honest, the school’s focus on positive business principles did not factor into my decision. However, as a (very) recent alum, I can now say it had an incredible impact on my Ross experience and provided me knowledge, tools, and practices to help me become a better leader, employee, friend, and community member.

Learn more about Pamela's preemptive strike against breast cancer on her blog, Positive Previvor, at positiveprevivor.wordpress.com.