How a Santa Ana Butcher Told His Stage 4 Colon Cancer to Fuck Off
We call him the Butcher, and not just because Robert Flores is a carnicero by trade and has been for more than 35 years. Bobby's as sharp as the knives he uses for a living--the knowledge of his skills, his humor, the hooks and crosses he unleashes whenever my friends and cousins go through a boxing session at the Mexiclan Dojo. I've never heard him play the sax or seen him drive the VW bug in his garage, two hobbies he's yet to share with us, but I'm sure he does so with an exacting verve as only someone who slices, chops, saws and eviscerates for a living can.
And now, I'm proud to say he's also a sharp author. #FuckCancer is an awesome, unsparing, hilarious, touching look into the life of not just a cancer survivor, but a cancer killer. You have to possess the mindset of a meatman to make it through the hell that is Stage 4 colon cancer: methodical, precise, unsparing, prepared for the gore and blood that follow when it confronts you. It's a disease that beats down almost everyone, especially when it's ready to turn you into a carcass. But the Butcher prevailed--and now he wants to tell his survival tale for the world, a story I'm proud to promote and even play a small part in.
I can't even remember when Robert and I met. He knew me long before I knew him, as Bobby had read my stuff in the Weekly for years. Maybe it was on Twitter, where he sent me enough nice things for me to follow him, then posted enough hilarity for me to retweet incessantly. Maybe it was via Facebook, which says we've been amigos since October 2011. Maybe it was in--of all places--the Cypress Park Library in Los Angeles, home to one of the coolest librarians around, so cool that his Lowriting: Shots, Rides & Stories From the Chicano Soul featured entries by both Robert and me. (You can buy that book through the publisher of Bobby's book, Broken Sword Publications--what, you don't think I shamelessly cross-promote stuff here?)
Truth is, I really don't give a fuck: Bobby is my brother now, and it feels as if we've known each other forever. I think we immediately got along because we shared the same love of food, the same hatred of vendido politicians, and the same commitment to raise DESMADRE. I forgave him that he attended Mater Dei High School, which is as famous for its pedophile priests as it is for its powerhouse prep football and basketball programs; he looked past the fact that I'm from Anaheim, and he's from big, bad SanTana.
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We immediately hit it off, and I introduced him to my inner circle, one member who--talk about fate--had worked with Bobby at a supermarket in Irvine a decade earlier. But in those first couple of meetings, I didn't know he was battling for his life. The remarkable thing about the Butcher is that any despair he may have is quickly leveled by his determination and optimism; his public face is that of a typical middle-aged chingón who wants nothing more than a beer at C4 Deli, a burger during Trivia Night at Kelly's Korner Tavern in Placentia, and a football game on the screen to call it a night. As you'll read in the pages of his book, he definitely went through highs and lows, but he NEVER gave up. I always tell young students that the way through life is always forward--you can slow down, but never stop and NEVER go back. In the Butcher's case, he didn't just keep going forward; he cut down the shitstorm of life.
I come from a family of cancer survivors--my dad had testicular cancer, while Mamí beat breast cancer. We at the Weekly lost photographer Andrew Youssef a couple of years ago to the same cancer that struck Robert (the two became quick friends before Andrew left us). Cancer is a vicious thing that lays waste to the strongest people--and it's absolutely taboo to talk about it in Mexican society. We're supposed to face it stoically, without drawing attention to ourselves. But that does nothing to help others--or the sufferer himself.
#FuckCancer is not just the latest entry in the lengthy bookshelf of cancer literature; it also belongs in Chicano Studies classrooms. Because in the Butcher, you find everything we want our community to turn into: a fighter. A survivor. Someone who's proud of where he's from. Brown and down. And a pioneer: Robert is brave enough to tell his story, to become a writer despite being in his mid-50s and never having written a "professional" story, let alone a full-length book. May this book inspire people who want to be writers but are afraid to do so . . . to do so. May the Butcher inspire other cancer survivors--especially raza--to tell their stories. May #FuckCancer give families the courage to talk about this subject. May this book top The New York Times best-seller list! (Yeah, right, the editors there still think the only "Hispanic" writer worth covering is Richard Rodriguez.)
But most of all, may everyone who reads #FuckCancer come away inspired by the Butcher to do something with their lives. Because if this man looked death in the face, took its scythe and chopped it down, then so can you.
Foreword from #FuckCancer: The True Story of How Robert the Bold Kicked Cancer's Ass by Robert Flores; Broken Sword Publications (www. brokenswordpublications.com). $14.95. Follow Flores on Twitter: @foxflores.
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