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Meet Our Survivors: Roberto Olivares

After conquering bladder, colon and various skin cancers Roberto Olivares remained positive when facing a fourth diagnosis – prostate cancer. Taking charge of cancer, Roberto conducted intensive research and chose The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Proton Therapy Center.

Roberto was enjoying his retirement at his beach condo on South Padre, until cancer struck again. In 2005, at the age of sixty-five, Roberto was diagnosed with prostate cancer after a routine test showed that his PSA levels were elevated. For two years, doctors in San Antonio, Texas advised “watchful waiting” before insisting on surgery. Tired of waiting and having already been through numerous surgeries for his bladder, colon and skin cancers, Roberto sought other options. He read about the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center online and set out to learn more.

In October of 2007, Roberto and his wife headed north and rented a condo in Houston, so that Roberto could begin treatment.

“The treatment was pain-free,” said Roberto. “I never experienced any of the typical side effects of radiation.”

On December 28, 2007, Roberto finished his treatment, rang the ceremonial gong, and went home. Just a few weeks later, Roberto experienced a scraping feeling in his esophagus while eating. The odd sensation continued for several weeks, at which point he called MD Anderson to make sure it was not a delayed side effect of the proton therapy. His doctors assured him it was not and urged him to get it checked out.

An endoscopy revealed a mass in his esophagus. It was stage III esophageal cancer. Again, after cancer struck for the fifth time, Roberto remained steadfast, strong and positive, took control of his health and insisted on consulting with doctors at the proton therapy center.

“The MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center made an indelible impression on me. There’s no comparison in my mind to the expertise and type of treatment you get there. Even the vibe of the place – it’s very jovial, happy and welcoming, which matters a lot when trying to keep positive in the face of cancer.”

After consultation with a multidisciplinary team, Roberto began his treatment plan that would include chemotherapy and proton therapy, followed by surgery. Roberto’s doctors prepared him for the journey ahead, but to their amazement he never experienced any of the potential side effects during his chemotherapy and proton therapy, such as pain upon swallowing.

“In fact, the night before my final proton therapy treatment, I had a steak dinner in celebration.”

In May of 2008, Roberto completed his proton therapy treatment. After completing both proton therapy and chemotherapy, he was eligible for surgery to further reduce the risk of recurrence, and had most of his esophagus and half of his stomach removed.  Recovery from surgery was difficult – three weeks in the hospital without anything to drink or eat and three months recovery at home.  

“I have some trouble with acid reflux now that part of my esophagus has been removed, but this is manageable. I am really blessed to be in a good state of health after all of these treatments.”  He has gained most of his weight back and eats without any restrictions, including hot salsa.

Today Roberto is in remission and doing well. One year after his surgery he and his wife took off and spent one month traveling throughout Spain eating sumptuous meals and drinking fine wines.  He and his wife still maintain close relationships with individuals and families who they met and bonded with during his treatments.

Roberto says now that he has overcome five different cancers his goal is to raise awareness and to encourage those with cancer to get to MD Anderson. He emphasizes the importance of preventative measures and paying attention to your body.

“There’s no need to get depressed, “I tell patients that I am living proof you can beat cancer and go on with your life. Even after five cancers I never stopped fighting.”  June 9, 2012, will be four years since his esophageal surgery and he remains cancer free.  Roberto emphasizes that there is hope after a cancer diagnosis and he attributes his wellbeing to the fact that he received the best care from the greatest specialists in the world.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center