How one loan originator beat cancer to thrive in mortgage

She shares her story after facing life-threatening battle

How one loan originator beat cancer to thrive in mortgage

Nikkie Haley-Herbert (pictured) is a study in perseverance: She enrolled in college as an older student with children at home, entered the mortgage sector with no industry experience and later not even the specter of cancer would keep her down.

Like many in the industry, she ventured in guided by a mix of intellectual curiosity, a dose of confidence and – perhaps the greatest motivator – an urgent need for a job. Her initial pursuit was in marketing, which would later serve as a launching pad to become a broker.

“I entered the industry in marketing,” she told Mortgage Professional America during a telephone interview. “I was just finishing my degree at Drexel University here in Philadelphia and literally I was just looking for a job,” she said. Her twin boys were still quite young, and she had an older daughter as well.

Casting a wide net

That sort of scenario can prompt one to throw caution to the wind, just go for it, and hope for the best. And that’s what happened with Haley-Herbert.

“It’s a crazy story, but we all have one,” she prefaced. “I got really frustrated one day and I might have applied to 200-something jobs in the Philadelphia area.”

That’s a pretty wide net to cast, and some two weeks later, a lady from AnnieMac Home Mortgage called to interview her. But again, it was a wide net she cast to begin with, and she found herself subtly stalling the would-be employer while she tried to piece together her initial application. “I’m like, ‘oh my God, what did I apply for?’” she recalled, now able to laugh at the memory. “I ran back to my laptop as I’m talking to her, looking for the listing to see.”

Despite such a frenetic start, she got the job. “I went in for the interview and it was really different because, at that time, I had no real corporate marketing experience,” she said. “I never thought I’d go into lending, but I was lean and hungry and really wanted the job. Even after the interview, I knew they were going to interview a few other people but I kept in touch with her and one of the other marketing managers. It took them almost two months but they did hire me, and I started off as a marketing coordinator for AnnieMac Home Mortgage back in 2014.”

She spent more than two years at AnnieMac in Mount Laurel, NJ, where she was a business development marketing specialist. From there, she would enjoy loan originator jobs at  MLB Residential Lending LLC and Acre Mortgage & Financial Inc. before a stint of nearly four years as a loan consultant at loanDepot

A true test of her mettle

It was during this time her greatest challenge would emerge – one that would truly test her mettle – coming in the already-dark days of the pandemic that added to a sense of isolation.

“I started having some medical issues, and I wasn’t sure what it was,” she recalled. “I went in for a regular mammogram – for the first time ever – and that’s when they found a lump. I had to go back for extra testing, an ultrasound and then eventually a biopsy,” she said. “By October of 2020, I was fully diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer and was facing chemotherapy as that was the only option for that type of breast cancer. So life got really interesting.”

According to the American Cancer Society, the term triple-negative breast cancer refers to cancer cells without estrogen or progesterone receptors and also not making any or too much of the protein called HER2.

She endured three months of chemotherapy from November 2020 to February 2021, with a subsequent double mastectomy, surgery to remove vestiges of cancer before undergoing reconstructive surgery. It was during the ordeal that the importance of having the right people around her shone through.

“One of the main things I did prior to even having the full diagnosis, I wanted to make sure I had the right people around me – both professionally and personally – who were going to keep my head in the game if I began sinking too low,” she said.

That circle included her husband, her best friend and her former branch manager at loanDepot. All told, the five people were to boost her up as she went through the rigors of chemo. “Having the right tribe is important,” she said.

Yet her inner strength propelled her as well. She told MPA she continued to work even while in the throes of treatment – not in the immediate aftermath of chemo treatments, but in the days that followed when she’d regain her strength. “I actually worked through all of it because I needed a major distraction,” she said.

That work ethic earned her arguably her highest review when a client noted how Haley-Herbert helped her secure a home despite undergoing medical treatment. “Helping people make such a big decision – one of the biggest they’ll every make in their lives – was the part that inspired me, even when I was going through chemotherapy.”

She’s now a branch manager at Lending Heights. She recalled the hard decision it was to leave loanDepot, but the move to Lending Heights was guided by the circumstances she had just undergone.

Nearly three years cancer-free, her optimism – a dynamic that surely sustained her in her medical scare – shines through: “I’m healthy,” she said. “I’m fine. I definitely can’t complain. It could’ve been worse.”

Now that’s fortitude.

Want to make your inbox flourish with mortgage-focused news content? Get exclusive interviews, breaking news, industry events in your inbox, and always be the first to know by subscribing to our FREE daily newsletter.