Kamna Mittal (pictured) was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in May of 2020. Just as the initial COVID-19 lockdowns were ending, the SVP of mortgage lending at Guaranteed Rate Affinity (GRA) in Palo Alto, CA. was left reeling by a life-changing diagnosis and an extremely long road through treatment and recovery. Mittal’s work as a mortgage professional, though, became a lifeline as she began her battle. By the end of 2020, she had broken $100 million in origination volume and was named to GRA’s chairman’s circle.
Still, Mittal’s year was upended by the diagnosis. She faced weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy and various subsequent surgeries and then months of radiation therapy before the cancer would be well and truly behind her. With such a long road ahead, the shorter-term challenges of her work became a crucial way to find meaning on a day-to-day basis. She was able to focus on the needs of her clients and the needs of her family, with a newfound sense of perspective informed by her illness.
“I realized slowly that my work was something I was looking forward to in the day because it’s my own space,” Mittal said. “It was a return to some of the normalcy that I used to have before I was diagnosed with cancer. And that really helped me to keep going.”
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The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, while devastating in so many ways, was something of a blessing in disguise for Mittal. With more flexible work arrangements she could better balance her work, her treatments, and raising two kids as a single mom. She could engage directly with her clients without having to disclose her illness and could better manage the fatigue and other complications that come with chemo as she didn’t have to drive from place to place and meeting to meeting through her days.
Joining the chairman’s circle and crossing $100 million in volume, Mittal said, was a goal she had set early on in her career. She believes she achieved that goal in 2020 in part because of the determination and drive her battle with cancer instilled in her. Taking things as they came, day by day, helped her stay focused on what was directly in front of her. Up against the cruel ambiguity of cancer, the tactile accomplishment of a day’s good work was a form of salvation for her.
“I would make my small goals for each day, and let it go by accordingly,” Mittal said. “Those goals helped me stay focused, to maintain my determination, and my willpower. They gave me the determination to never give up.”
Mittal explained that her diagnosis allowed her to approach work differently, with a new sense of perspective. Problems that might spark panic in her before the illness became far more manageable in the context of cancer. She became calmer, more methodical and analytical in her work. Because thinking about work was a respite from her illness, she could analyze problems and be more proactive in her approach. She was able to put more trust, too, in her team and her processing staff, knowing they would do their best for her.
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While chemotherapy and her main surgeries are now behind her, Mittal still has months of radiation therapy ahead, with a few more surgeries to follow. She’s hopefully at the tail end of her cancer battle, but as any survivor would tell you, it’s a long tail. In the face of that, she’s still grateful for her work. She believes other mortgage professionals facing personal or professional adversity can take strength and courage from her example. Perhaps more importantly, they can learn to empathize with all those around them.
“I’m always thankful for the people I’m working with,” Mittal said. “I see that at times we are so engrossed with our own challenges at the workplace that we want to push our processing teams. What I’ve realized is that everybody has a story and if my processor is not able to work then there’s a story behind it. There must be some reason. If you allow them to do their part, then they will succeed. I feel that it’s because of these people that I am where I am.”