An interview that taught me about DIPG— childhood cancer

Jessica Hoy
Jun 11 · 8 min read

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Theodora Cornelia. She has been in the real estate space for the past 30 years working as a mortgage officer, restoring & flipping houses, and more recently work with Metropolist as a realtor.

It would be easy to delve into Thea’s meticulous note taking for productivity. Or detail what about her 30 years in the industry makes her such a spectacular professional. Or even her excellent customer communications and service. But that wouldn’t be representing her dutifully. Thea’s genuine care for other people saturates everything she does, from her work to her good works. And that is exactly what I wanted to share with you.

So while this interview was intended just to be a reference document, I couldn’t help but share the ingenuity and strength of her own words.

Jessica — What are you doing for your clients? What drives you beyond a paycheck?

Theodora — I like to see that moment when the look on my client’s face changes from “This house is okay,” to, “I could really see myself in this home!” I recently sold a house to a very dear friend of mine, and I got to see that look on her face when she looked at me and said: “this is my house!” I loved it!

I love to help people. I was in the mortgage industry for many years, and I used to say, “I help people Finance the home of their dreams.” Now I say, “I help people Find the home of their dreams.”

Jessica — Do you find that you can help guide your clients better through the home buying process because you have a background in the mortgage industry?

Theodora — Absolutely! Actually, that friend just told me that she couldn’t believe how smooth the whole process went. But it’s more than the mortgage experience. I also have a background in renovating homes. My husband and I used to flip houses. I find I can visualize things better than most.

My friend was looking for her home and was determined to live on Phinney Ridge in Seattle. Nearly all of her friends were telling her that there was no way that she would be able to afford it. But when she told me of her plans, I said “Great! I can make this happen for you.”

At Metropolist, every Monday we work skills, which is a lot of role-playing and working with different ideas and situations. Along with my mortgage background, this has made me incredibly comfortable with how I can manage situations. I had a process and a plan of how we were going to approach my friend’s home purchase. First, we looked around to see what kinds of houses were available. And, once she found the home, I had to have a game plan as to how to approach it because there were five offers! I was able to win the offer for her. I won that for her because of my plan, and how I was very, very methodical in how we were going to approach the situation. I knew how to get her what she wanted. In the end, she looked at me and said, “Now I understand what you were saying.”

All of my experiences and the work we do at Metropolist has helped me be a better real estate broker. So while I have only been with Metropolist for three years, the sum total of my 30 years experience with the mortgage industry and renovation has prepared me for my current career as a Real Estate Broker.

I have had other realtors tell me they don’t read settlement statements or they don’t ever talk to the mortgage lenders. I am a professional, so these details are important to me. We have a transaction coordinator at my office, but I do a lot of the work myself. I am a perfectionist, so it’s tough for me to delegate or outsource my work.

Jessica — That can be a blessing and a curse. You get things done exactly the way you want it. But you have to do it all.

Theodora — Absolutely. But, I have systems in place, and it makes it easy. I find if I don’t do it myself from start to finish. Then I always wonder, “was it done?”

Jessica — How do you keep track of all the many steps and probably so many balls in the air at the same time? How do you keep your process in order and track?

Theodora — I take lots of notes! I keep a notebook on my desk that I write in every day. Every conversation, every phone call I have with the client, I write my notes. I have a folder for each client of course, and I write notes in there.

For me, when I write something down, I remember it.

And with Metropolist when we are in a transaction the department of licensing requires us to keep nearly everything. So I can always find them. I also have Gmail- I have saved thousands and thousands of emails, so I can always refer back when I need to — circling back to my client conversations: After I have had a conversation with a client, I always type an email to them with a recap.

Jessica — Amazing. Those are all excellent practices. You mentioned that you do “search and rescue” with the Union Gospel Mission, and you also did several years of working with Childhood Cancer Support for families. Would you expand on what drives you to do those things? And any details you’d like to give that might help support your efforts?

Theodora — So my work with search and rescue for Union Gospel Mission. I just see so many homeless people around Seattle. My husband and I have a 15 unit townhome development and a couple of other development projects, and I’ll be the listing broker on those projects. The business partner we are involved with for those developments got us involved with these works.

At Christmas, we drove a fire truck around, and we collected food for the homeless. I think we collected something like twenty-four thousand pounds of food or something.

I see what’s going on in the city, and our community and I’d like to be involved.

I want to be able to do something, and I don’t feel like it’s very much of anything at all. But I do enjoy doing it. It gets me engaged, and it let’s me know the other side of the issues, which is knowing what is going on with these people. Why are they homeless. The next step that we’re going to take on is how can we help them, which is what we are working with our business partners.

Jessica — How would you like somebody who’s reading this might be able to contribute or look into this cause a little bit more.

Theodora — People can feel free to contact me. We did a drive for clothing recently, and that went to women that have been abused or are in shelters that are trying to get on their feet. And we have an ongoing clothing collection for similar efforts.

Sometimes the mission gets overlooked because of its religious affiliations, but it’s important to focus on what their community efforts are doing.

And then the childhood cancer advocacy. I’ll try and speak without crying.

Jessica — You don’t have to talk about it if it’s too painful.

Theodora — No, it’s important. My nephew passed away when he was barely five years old. He was diagnosed with DIPG just before his fourth birthday.

Less than 1 percent of children survive five years after diagnosis. And it typically affects young children.

It’s a terminal diagnosis so there’s basically nothing they can do for these kids, at this point. They treat them with radiation, and that experience is horrific for young children to go through. It’s just a horrible, horrible type of brain cancer. If you google it, you’ll see the horrors of it.

So every year I raise money for the Avery Huffman defeat DIPG foundation.

After my nephew died, I started my own foundation with a friend but couldn’t bear to do it every day. It’s just very emotional. I just couldn’t do it.

So I have a few families that I met when he was sick. And there is this one family where the husband was diagnosed with leukemia a month after his daughter was diagnosed with this terminal brain cancer. And they’ve just never been able to quite make it back on their feet. So although it’s not the Childhood Cancer Advocacy that’s a family that I continue to help financially — I always will.

I used to post and promote that I donated 10 percent or every sale to the Defeat DIPG Foundation. But I don’t do that anymore. It doesn’t matter if I’m recognized for it. I do it because that’s what I feel like I need to do.

I mean it’s that’s the most horrible thing to see what he went through and see what these kids go through. The treatment is barbaric. It’s the only treatment that there is: 30 days of radiation, and they have to strap these kids heads to boards for their whole treatment — for 30 days in a row.

My nephew was so little. He was diagnosed just three days before his fourth birthday. And they had to sedate him during his treatments because he was so little. Then they had to pump him with steroids to keep him from being so sick.

The tumor is in the brain-stem, and depending on where it’s pressing they could have been walking and then the next day they can’t walk anymore, or talk, or whatever.

We were lucky with my nephew. He did the 30 days of radiation, and we had six months where he didn’t have treatment. A six month “honeymoon”. I moved to Florida to be near him during this time. Every day I called my nephew, I would ask him what do you want to do? And we did whatever he wanted to do.

But it’s just torment. What happens to them. Little by little, you know he lost the ability to walk and talk. Then their little bodies basically shut down.`

It’s so important to spread awareness and especially to raise money to learn how to defeat it. The Avery Huffman Defeat DIPG foundation works to have grants that are awarded to people that are studying and doing trials for treatment and possible cures at universities.

About 4 percent of the money the National Institute of Health, which is who decides where federal grant money goes to, goes to childhood cancer research. So when you get involved in child cancer advocacy, one of the big battle cries is, “more than four!” Because so little money goes towards childhood cancer research. At this point, most childhood cancer is treated like the adult version, and it is horrific for the children.

On a positive note, being very immersed in it for a couple of years I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of doctors that really care. I met this one doctor, Dr. Mariella Filbin, who is from Austria. She was a doctor in Austria, with a specialty in childhood cancer and DIPG. She moved to the United States because she felt like here she had a better chance of serving these children. And she actually had to go through another seven or eight years of medical school in the US, because they didn’t recognize her education. So she went through another eight years of school just so that she could work with these children. So I did learn that there are a lot of doctors and medical professionals that do feel strongly about the cause. And that part of it is quite amazing.

Jessica — I appreciate you sharing your story with me. You have a big heart! With how much you put into your work, all the details in helping your friends, and all of the fantastic charitable work you are doing. You sound like you care about people and you have a truly beautiful soul.

Jessica Hoy

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