The actor said doctors told him 'we do not know what you're gonna sound like' after chemo.
Edward James Olmos is recalling the harrowing experience of battling throat cancer. The legendary actor spoke about it publicly for the first time with Mando Fresko on the Mando & Friends podcast, saying doctors had to aggressively attack the cancer to the point they were unsure what his voice would sound like after it was all said and done.
The 76-year-old actor says he's thankful to be alive after finishing his last round of radiation on Dec. 20. The Stand and Deliver star credits his relentless pursuit of living a healthy lifestyle -- with daily exercise and healthy eating -- which he says gave him a fighting chance against a cancer that's cost the lives of many of his friends.
"This would be the first time publicly I’ll be coming out and saying it, but I had throat cancer," Olmos said. "I just finished getting through it. 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. I still have right here [on my throat] a bump where my lymph nodes, they burned them out because they shot this area with radiation."
Olmos, who famously portrayed Selena Quintanilla's father, Abraham, in the 1997 biopic, also remembers what doctors told him on the day they laid out their plan on how to fight the cancer.
"The doctors would say -- I had five doctors -- 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 gonna sound like,'" Olmos recalled. "I said, 'What?!'"
The Academy Award-nominated actor then detailed the aggressive treatment.
"We’re shooting your vocal cords, we’re shooting your throat; where you eat, where you swallow, where you talk, breathe, everything goes through here," said Olmos pointing to his throat. "So we’re shooting it. And it becomes the hardest place to shoot, to use radiation and chemo. A lot of my friends have passed because of this. It’s a very strong disease."
The My Family/Mi Familia star said the cancer "took a lot" out of him. He said he lost 55 pounds and all of his muscle, but he's been working hard over the last four months to regain his strength by swimming up to two miles a day, every day, as well as rowing.
After the host and his crew gave Olmos, the pride of East Los Angeles, a round of applause and congratulated him on his recovery, Olmos shared what made this journey so painfully difficult.
"There were times in the months that I was undergoing the treatments that the body gives up," he admitted. "And 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."
In order to stay hydrated, Olmos said he was given "intravenous water" because it was impossible to swallow.
"It was an experience that changed me, the understanding of how wonderful this life is," he added. "I've been through some experiences that have gotten me close to death, but that was close."