Robert Flores, 56, has been a professional butcher for 35 years, but these days he's been in the news and making headlines for his first book, #F*%kCancer: The True Story of How Robert the Bold Kicked Cancer’s A** (we added the asterisks). In it, he writes about the pain, agony, and ultimate triumph of beating stage four colorectal cancer.
The divorced Santa Ana, California native comes from a tight-knit family that includes his 90-year-old mother and three siblings. Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, he had never experienced illness more severe than the flu. Flores never intended to become an author of a book, although he did have a poem published in Lowriting: Shots, Rides & Stories from the Chicano Soul.
What sets Flores’s book apart from others is his raw prose where he describes being on the rollercoaster of chemotherapy, the grueling radiation treatments that zapped the tumor coming out of the skin of his left buttock, the relief that medical marijuana and his Catholic faith brought to him, and the friends and family who rallied around him as he progressed with his treatment plan.
According to the American Cancer Society, Latinos have lower cancer screening rates and tend to be diagnosed with cancer at later stages. Colorectal cancer is the second-most commonly diagnosed cancer for both Latinos and Latinas; it is also the second leading cause of cancer death for Latinos and the third leading cause of cancer death for Latinas.
NBC News: Why do you think there haven’t been many stories published by Chicanos and Latinos about their experiences with cancer?
Flores: We don’t really talk about this stuff in our community. I think that people expect Mexican American men to act macho and to endure these things without sharing the raw emotions and some of the realities about what happens to you physically as you go through cancer treatment. I was really raw in describing my emotions in the book. I felt like I was peeling back an onion.
NBC News: Who inspired you to start writing about your journey with colorectal cancer?
Flores: I was inspired by some women who I had found online, Xeni Jardin, Lisa Adams, and Suleika Jaouad. They were writing about their own journeys with cancer and were sharing their experiences on social media. Reading their journeys inspired me to document my own. And Santino Rivera, who owns Broken Sword Publications, approached me saying that what I was blogging could become a book.
NBC News: What was your treatment regimen like?
Flores: I was diagnosed with colon cancer in December 2011. I then went through six chemotherapy treatments and proceeded with 28 radiation treatments before having surgery to remove my tumor. A year after the initial diagnosis, I had 12 additional chemotherapy treatments before I was declared cancer free in June 2013. I even had a permanent colostomy, another thing that I had to learn to deal with, which I describe in my book.
NBC News: How did you approach your treatment?
Flores: I wanted to be the best patient that I could be. I was ready to follow my doctors’ directions. I was determined not to mess any of this up. I took my diagnosis personally. I felt like I was going to war with cancer. I even grew a beard to alter how I looked. I actually didn’t lose my hair, and I wouldn’t have cared if it did fall out because I was focused on fighting for my life.
I was also lucky that my employer, Gelson’s, was accommodating of me, so I could concentrate on my health for the year and a half that I was going through treatment without having the stress of having to work. I’m a butcher, and I stand all day at work. During that time, I was so physically exhausted and ill that I couldn’t work.
NBC News: What about the title of your book? Were you concerned that some people might be turned off by #F**kCancer?
Flores: I know that some people might not like the title, but I don’t see the term “f**k cancer” as being derogatory. “F*%ck you,” on the other hand, is derogatory. The ‘f word’ has different contexts. When it comes to something as ugly as cancer, I wanted to convey how I felt about it invading my body.
NBC News: What are your goals now that your cancer is in remission and that you have written your book?
Flores: My goal is to keep my life as normal as I can. I don’t want cancer to get even one little victory with me, so right now, I’m working on losing some of the weight that I gained during the course of treatment. I was put on steroids when I was going through cancer treatment, and that caused me to gain weight.
I also want to give back to the community. I plan to give some of the proceeds from my book sales to Latino Health Access in here in Santa Ana and to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Latino Health Access educates people in the community about preventing chronic diseases. I want to help other people and turn my experience into something good, something that people can learn from.