Facing Throat Cancer With Strength
- Actor Edward James Olmos, 76, recently revealed his private battle with throat cancer.
- Olmos, best known for his roles in "Miami Vice," "Selena," and "Stand and Deliver,” underwent chemotherapy and radiation to treat the cancer.
- He said he lost 55 pounds during treatment and even feared losing his voice.
- Throat cancer is a type of cancer that develops in your throat or voice box.
- Olmos also found gratitude through his journey. That means being thankful for what you have and showing appreciation in your day-to-day life. SurvivorNet doctors say gratitude can be helpful for cancer warriors struggling with health issues.
Actor Edward James Olmos, 76, is speaking out for the first time about his throat cancer, revealing that he came “close” to death as he lost 55 pounds and feared losing his voice during treatment. But, thankfully, he came out on the other side with a new outlook on life.
Olmos spent several decades in the entertainment business in movies and television. He grew more familiar to TV viewers in the 1980s in his portrayal of Lt. Martin Castillo in "Miami Vice." He also took on prominent roles in "In the Time of the Butterflies," "Stand and Deliver," and "Battlestar Galactica."Read More
Pointing to his throat, Olmos said, "I still have a bump where my lymph nodes, they burned them out because they shot this area with radiation."
Olmos said he had radiation therapy to treat the cancer, and it took a toll on him. He said he lost 55 pounds and muscle.
During radiation therapy, high-energy beams such as X-rays are aimed at cancer cells to kill them. But his strength wasn’t the only thing Olmos was worried about.
"The doctors would say right before I started, 'There's only one thing we have to tell you, we do not know what you're going to sound like," Olmos said. He responded to his doctors with a stunned, "What?!"
Actor Barry Corbin recently faced this concern too when he was being treated for oral cancer in 2022. Known for his charming southern twang, Corbin was understandably worried how treatment around his vocal cords would affect his career but he was able to maintain his iconic voice.
"There were times in the months that I was undergoing the treatments that the body gives up. I didn't want to take my food through my stomach. They wanted to put tubes in and feed me nutrients because I couldn't swallow. They had to get 2,500 calories into my body every day. That was ridiculous, that was so hard," Olmos explained.
Olmos completed his cancer treatment in December 2022 and says he’s in good condition today.
"December 20 was my last radiation. The week before, I'd finished my chemo and for months and months I was on radiation and chemo as it attacked my throat," Olmos said.
"It was an experience that changed me, the understanding of how wonderful this life is. I've been through some experiences that have gotten me close to death, but that was close," Olmos added.
With cancer treatments behind him, Olmos admitted he is grateful he was in good physical condition to beat the cancer.
"I was in good condition and I still am," he said. "I swim a mile a day at least, sometimes two miles a day. Every day, seven days a week. And then I row and I do weights."
Understanding Throat Cancer
Throat cancer is cancer that develops in your throat or voice box. There are different types of throat cancer, according to Mayo Clinic, which include:
- Nasopharyngeal cancer begins in the part of your throat behind your nose.
- Oropharyngeal cancer begins in the part of the throat behind your mouth.
- Hypopharyngeal cancer, also called laryngopharyngeal cancer, begins in the lower part of your throat.
- Glottic cancer begins in the vocal cords.
- Supraglottic cancer begins in the upper part of the voice box.
- Subglottic cancer begins in the lower part of the voice box.
The two most common throat cancer types are laryngopharyngeal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Throat Cancer Risk Factors and Symptoms
Factors that can increase your risk of throat cancer, according to May Clinic, include:
- Tobacco use
- Excessive alcohol use
- Viral infections including human papillomavirus (HPV)
- A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when your stomach acid flows back into your esophagus.
- Exposure to toxic substances
Expert Resources for Coping With a Diagnosis
Throat cancer symptoms depend on where the cancer develops in the throat, according to MD Anderson Cancer Center. But signs include:
- Hoarseness or changes in your voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent sore throat
- Ear pain
- Lump in the neck
- Breathing problems
- Unexplained weight loss
How Gratitude Helps Cancer Patients Overcome Adversity
Through cancer, Olmos adopted a new sense of gratitude in life. And he’s not alone. Many cancer warriors find gratitude while battling the disease.
Living with gratitude means being thankful for what you have and showing appreciation in your day-to-day life. SurvivorNet doctors say gratitude can be helpful for cancer warriors struggling with health issues.
Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal cancer surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told SurvivorNet that his cancer patients who live with gratitude tend to handle treatment better.
He points to stress and anxiety associated with a health diagnosis can lead to physical issues. He goes on to suggest practicing gratitude can help manage your stress and anxiety levels.
WATCH: How gratitude impacts a patient's mindset.
"The patients who do well with cancer live life with that kind of gratitude, but in terms of everything," he explained. "They're grateful, not for cancer, but they're grateful for an opportunity to know that life is finite."
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
- Has my throat cancer become advanced and spread to other parts of the body?
- What kind of cancer treatment should I expect?
- Are there any treatment side effects that will severely impact my daily routines?
- How long does the treatment process usually take?
- What resources are available to help me if I experience any mental health challenges while battling throat cancer?