Three Associates within one office battle breast cancer and draw strength from co-workers, family and each other
By Lisa McEwen // Photos by Ryan A. Krauter
As summer turned to fall last year, an onslaught of life-altering diagnoses began for Associates at RE/MAX All Estates in Visalia, Calif. In the face of adversity, the close-knit office banded together to support three agents who learned they had breast cancer. An atmosphere of caring, communication and kindness has helped Olga Duran, Selina Robinson and Kelly Salcedo continue doing the work they love.
A DIFFICULT AUTUMN
It all started in September 2013 when Olga Duran felt a lump in her breast during a self-exam in the shower. Believing it was a temporary issue, the active, happy grandmother of five didn’t say anything to her husband or family members. But when the lump didn’t disappear after a few weeks, she and her daughters decided it was time to see a doctor. The growth turned out to be cancerous, and she began the first of six rounds of chemotherapy. Still, Duran continued to work with her clients.
As the office began to rally around Duran, Kelly Salcedo noticed something different about her body. Feeling a lump, she quickly called for an early mammogram. A biopsy of the tumor followed and the diagnosis revealed triple-negative breast cancer, an especially fast-spreading and tough-to-treat form. Considered one of the most upbeat, positive members of the office, Salcedo learned in the New Year she’d face, at minimum, a lumpectomy and chemotherapy.
Then, with the office still reeling from the news of Salcedo and Duran’s diagnoses, Selina Robinson became the third Associate to discover she, too, had breast cancer.
A quiet, hard-working agent just four years into her real estate career, Robinson knew her fibrocystic breasts were prone to lumps. But when the mother of two adult daughters noticed that the pain and discomfort in one breast wouldn’t subside, she suspected something was wrong. A mammogram in October revealed a tumor, and in December, a biopsy detected cancer.
As the three women battled the side effects of treatment, especially the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy, they persevered with their careers, doing as much as they physically and mentally could.
Salcedo’s thick hair began falling out 12 days after her first round of chemotherapy. Her family and close friends were at her side at a salon when she cut her hair short, and later her husband, 13-year-old son and the family dog held a private head-shaving party at home.
“We tried to make it an upbeat kind of thing,” Salcedo says, during an interview from her home just four days after double mastectomy surgery.
All three women underwent single or double mastectomies and now face reconstructive surgeries.
They agree that staying involved in their careers throughout treatment and surgeries has proven to be a difficult balancing act, with some days being better than others.
“Cancer hasn’t stopped us from working, but I’ve learned to take it down a notch,” Salcedo says. “There were days when I didn’t go to the office, when I kept my phone on silent. I always tried to return calls, but if there was something I couldn’t get done, I knew someone in the office would take care of the client for me.”
TRUST IS KEY
That sort of trust is a hallmark of the office, says Ed Evans, Broker/Owner of RE/MAX All Estates.
“We have a culture of productivity here,” he says. “We do a lot of things together and always support each other. We’re not concerned about others stealing our business or taking advantage of another – we’re team-oriented.”
In fact, Robinson was originally drawn to RE/MAX All Estates because of its atmosphere.
“This brokerage felt the most comfortable,” she says. “You can tell a lot about an office by the words the Broker/Owner and Associates use.”
Though many religions are represented in the office, prayer in office meetings is not unusual.
“None of us is afraid to express our spirituality,” Duran says. “We’re not all of the same religion, but we all believe. And that’s what’s important. We can share that.”
Through all the doctor appointments, hospital stays and chemotherapy treatments, agents and staff members were kept in the loop via email and phone calls. The three women agree that the support they’ve received from their co-workers, families and neighbors has positively impacted their cancer experiences. That will continue as their journeys unfold. The women also give thanks for their husbands, who have consistently remained by their sides. Duran has been married to Ruben for 40 years, Salcedo to Stephen for 18 years and Robinson to Jim for 32 years.
“I’ve been amazed at the amount of love in my home,” Salcedo says. She keeps cards she’s received through the months in a countertop basket. Looking over the words and signatures is just one activity that keeps her motivated to fight through the setbacks and tough days. “You break down once in a while, but you get back up and keep on fighting.”
As mothers, the most difficult realization for each of them is the need to let go of some responsibilities in order to take care of themselves.
“I’m so used to being independent, but I realized I couldn’t be Superwoman anymore,” Duran says with tears welling in her eyes. “I’ve learned to depend on people, but that’s also when the depression can hit. I was the invincible mom. I wasn’t supposed to be in this position.”
“It’s hard holding on to your sense of value,” Robinson says in agreement.
For these three Associates, receiving a cancer diagnosis forced them to take stock of life’s priorities. They realized that bitterness, grudges and negativity have no place in their lives.
“Don’t take life for granted,” Duran advises. “Wasting it on negative things just isn’t worth it. Embrace your loved ones and tell them you love them every day.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in eight women in the United States will receive a breast cancer diagnosis. With statistics like that, spreading awareness and helping to raise funds for research is a priority among many RE/MAX offices in the network, and especially for RE/MAX All Estates in Visalia, Calif.
The brokerage has long supported Susan G. Komen, and when three of its own were diagnosed with breast
cancer, Broker/Owner Ed Evans says that talking openly about the illness and supporting the agents any way they could created an atmosphere of unity. It also was further reminder that most people are affected by cancer in some way.
“Right now, we’re focused on getting these three agents on with life,” he says, noting that future plans call for a community event to increase knowledge of breast cancer’s reach. “We’re looking at ways to help make the community more aware of the cancers they may face. Whether it’s an event or a fundraiser, we will find a group activity that will help us deal with this and create a positive impact.”
Visit komen.org for more information and ways you can help.