Jeff Lichtenstein of ECHO Fine Properties: I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Uncover all stones. Talk to everyone and don’t be afraid of bothering someone. You are not. If it’s best to go out of state, do it. Its’ important to get the best care. I can’t emphasize that enough. Too many people take the easy way out and just go to the local hospital. Sometimes that is the right choice, but often it isn’t. Get out of your comfort zone with this.
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Lichtenstein.
Jeff Lichtenstein is the President and Founder of ECHO Fine Properties in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Jeff survived kidney cancer and is now 5 years cancer-free thanks to the doctors and medical staff at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?
I grew up in a Chicago suburb. I earned my bachelor’s degree in business management with a major in marketing from Syracuse University. Prior to real estate, I worked for my father’s company, Western Textile Fashion Drapery Products, as the Vice President of Marketing and Sales. There, I worked with buyers and designers to sell home furnishing fabrics to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Before launching my own brokerage, I built and managed a large team while I was an independent real estate agent for 17 years. As owner and founder of ECHO Fine Properties, I now manage an 80-person team. I work closely with my agents as a very hands-on broker and trainer. I’m involved in all aspects of my business — marketing, advertising, creative content, social media, SEO, and more. I earned the nickname “The Machine” because of my work ethic. I’ve sold more than 1,100 homes since becoming a Realtor in 2001 and was named Best Realtor of the Year in 2021 & 2022 by The Palm Beach Post.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can’t do a good deal with a bad guy.” This was a quote from my grandfather. In today’s world, it means avoiding negative energy. We hire people who have a good moral compass and who really want to help others. If we make an error, the negative energy person weeds themselves out as there is no one to gossip with. We doubled our sales last year and it’s because we have good people who love to help and collaborate with others. We also don’t take every client. We will go to the ends of the Earth to satisfy any “reasonable request,” but work to avoid people who are abusive with unreasonable expectations. We do more business for it and pick and choose our clientele.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?
I noticed blood in my urine after eating sushi, so I initially thought it was due to consuming raw tuna. However, online research yielded scary results. I had an important photo shoot and breakfast to attend the following morning, followed by my child’s volleyball game. I am very good at compartmentalizing. Afterwards, I went to the health center and they initially thought it was kidney stones, but they sent me to Jupiter Medical Center to get scanned as a precaution. They found a mass and there was a 50% chance that it was malignant. A few days later, I received confirmation that it was indeed cancer.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
I frantically worked to get my affairs in order and make contingency plans in case I died on the operating table. I had an optimistic outlook. My life was good and I was never fearful of death. My children were formed and people of good character. I love my wife and felt accomplished in my career. If my kids had been 10 years younger, I would have had a different mindset.
How did you react in the short term?
I learned from my parents to treat medical situations like a hypochondriac and move quickly. My mom went to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for successful esophageal cancer treatment six years prior. I was very impressed whenever I visited. Eleven days after my diagnosis, my kidney was removed there.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
To help me get through the fight of my life, I relied on my cancer song, “The End of the Line” by the Traveling Willburys. It is a simple tune about life and death and doing the best you can. I found it very positive and must have listened to it 100 times.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
When my mom was battling cancer, she allowed herself one day per week to feel down. I’d also like to give credit to Nurse Nikky, who assisted Dr. Matin at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She was present from day one and provided me with so much compassion. MD Anderson is an incredibly caring place. It is made up of 20,000 collaborative medical specialists in the cancer field. Cancer is the only thing they do. They exude positive energy. Ask anyone around there for directions, whether a surgeon or custodian, and they stop and help with a smile. You leave the trivialities of the world behind. There are positive messages everywhere. Everyone there is going through something. Little kids with brain cancer and older people in pain and everything in between. You feel more for others than yourself when you are there.
In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?
The one gift of cancer is understanding mortality, others that are sick, and older people better. It helps putting yourself in others’ shoes even more. I think we all judge others too fast when we don’t know really what is going on in that person’s world. I think it’s good to give that person the benefit of the doubt that something difficult may have just occurred.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I’ve always been in a rush to get 100% out of life and cognizant of time. My family has been driven crazy by me for seeing that one last sightseeing attraction, and that was before cancer. I spent a lot of time with grandparents, for example, as a kid because once they go, you don’t have a chance to spend physical time with them anymore (although you can always visit in your mind). So, I knew that life was short already. I learned that I was happy and didn’t have regrets other than not playing a musical instrument. I’ve since taken a harmonica lesson. That’s not bad! I think the biggest worldview is to think about things much more thoughtfully and see it with greater perspective. I was already in favor of Universal Health Care and that healthcare is a need, not a want. I’m more entrenched with that thought.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
Yes, ECHO raised $15,000 for Tug of War to Stop Cancer and sponsored a polo event in March at Port Mayaca Polo Club to raise money for Molly’s House, a non-profit that offers comfortable and affordable accommodations to patients who are receiving outpatient medical treatment. They also assist with housing family and friends who are visiting a loved one in the hospital, assisted living, hospice, and more.
Since opening up, people from all walks of life have been approaching me to ask for advice and referrals to doctors because they just got diagnosed, are sharing the cancer story of a relative, or just want to give me a hug to show support. Everyone from my landscaper to childhood friends I lost touch with. It’s rewarding and an important obligation to be a resource for others, setting up phone calls or meeting up with people for lunch.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
As a business owner, I felt the need to present myself as strong and in perfect health in order to retain clients and gain new clients. I feared that by disclosing my cancer diagnosis, clients and our team would view me as too sick to work to full capacity, or think I’d be absent and unavailable due to exhaustion and doctors’ appointments. I only told a select few people until recently. I had an easier post-cancer experience than many people because the only option was to remove the kidney. I did not receive chemo or radiation or need to take medication. Although I lacked energy and would get exhausted in the early afternoon during the first year, I kept working and kept my illness secretive out of fear of compromising my business and effecting other team members in our business. It was difficult at times, but I proved that I was capable of working, meeting with clients, selling homes, and running a business. I wish that businesspeople like myself had the confidence to be honest and disclose their truth sooner than I did. I waited until I was cancer-free for five years to open up. It’s been difficult to hide this for so long. I do realize that many cancer patients are not as lucky as I was and cannot continue to work while they receive treatment because they feel very ill and people who undergo chemo lose their hair, so it is more difficult to keep their diagnosis a secret.
I recovered from it. I had a good attitude about it and there’s no questioning that a positive attitude and making good decisions and acting fast does have an effect on your success and survival, but a lot is out of your control. You can still lose your battle. That doesn’t make you any more or less of a fighter.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
a. Write down a fear list. If you have any fears or regrets, now would be a good time to address them.
b. This is your time. Be a little selfish with it.
c. Uncover all stones. Talk to everyone and don’t be afraid of bothering someone. You are not. If it’s best to go out of state, do it. Its’ important to get the best care. I can’t emphasize that enough. Too many people take the easy way out and just go to the local hospital. Sometimes that is the right choice, but often it isn’t. Get out of your comfort zone with this.
d. It’s ok to feel however you feel. Some people need to talk about it a lot and others don’t. There is no one right way to feel about it.
e. Work on positive energy. This is critically important. Turn off the news and do things that are organically positive. Your mindset is key.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
I think the best sales skill a Realtor can have is the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. It helps for a Realtor to understand their clients’ needs and the party they’re negotiating with. Most of the time, people see the world only from their viewpoint. For myself, “getting” other people is most important. It’s for whatever reason an extraordinarily hard mindset for people to have. When I was growing up, a close member of our family instilled in me that I was no better than anyone else, but I was as good as everyone else. Not only is understanding others great for business, but it makes for a kinder and happier society. It’s easier to solve problems and grow on a forward trajectory. I think that mindset, which also results in more empathy, needs to be taught at home, in school, and throughout daily life with more emphasis.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. :-)
Joakim Noah, who is a retired Chicago Bull. I’m from Chicago and just loved his attitude, sense of humor, work ethic, competitiveness, love of others, and inner-city work on those less fortunate. Inner city poverty has always bothered me and it’s something I’m interested in helping with. I’d love to get advice from him.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!