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Stevens, battling cancer, embraces life

Mortgage Bankers Association CEO encouraging other men to get screened for prostate cancer


July 14, 2017
By Walt Williams

Mortgage Bankers Association CEO David Stevens and his wife had just signed a contract to build their retirement home in August 2016 when they learned from his urologist he had stage four prostate cancer—a diagnosis that carries a low survival rate. When Stevens told the doctor about the new house, he didn’t get the reaction he was expecting.

“He looks to me and says, ‘Great!” Stevens recalled. “He says, ‘Live! Keep living! Do everything you can. Don’t cocoon!’”

“Live” has become Stevens’ motto since learning he had cancer. It is a philosophy that has carried him through this past year of chemotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy and radiation treatments. And the CEO has chosen not to fight his battle quietly but openly with members and, more recently, with the public through a blog post on LinkedIn. His message is to continue enjoying life no matter what may lie ahead.

“You got to keep the right attitude, because attitude is a huge part of the battle with a disease like this,” he said.

Stevens became MBA’s CEO in 2011, having previously been U.S. assistant secretary of housing. He announced to the association’s membership that he had cancer during MBA’s annual conference in Boston last year. The CEO decided to keep leading the organization and serving as the industry’s chief spokesman, granting media interviews in between therapy sessions. His leadership team took over many day-to-day operations during his absences.

A chemotherapy waiting room is “a horrible place” where it is easy for patients to surrender to depression, Stevens said. The strategy for him and other cancer patients was to fight the depressive atmosphere with humor and camaraderie.

Stevens’ cancer is in remission but his doctors tell him the disease is likely to return. He doesn’t focus on that. The CEO is taking his doctor’s advice and enjoying life. That means continuing to lead MBA; overseeing the Open Doors Foundation, which helps parents make monthly house payments when their children are in the hospital; and, more recently, educating men about prostate cancer.

“How do you get others to go check themselves (for prostate cancer) if they don’t have it in front of them all the time?” Stevens said. “I’ve had so many people reach out to me and say ‘I’m going to have a prostate exam right away.’ A couple have had scares as a result. That is the goal: to motivate.”