MEXICO CITY (AFP) - Jimmy Gomez, better known as the rapper Taboo from The Black Eyed Peas, had money, fame and a multi-platinum career when a strange back pain brought his world crashing down.
The six-time Grammy winner went to the doctor and got a gut-wrenching diagnosis: He had testicular cancer.
He had more than 100 million record sales to his name and a string of worldwide dance hits like I Gotta Feeling and Where Is the Love, but it meant nothing in the face of cancer's cruel reality, he told AFP in an interview.
At first, he was only able to piece the details together slowly. "They didn't tell me what type of cancer I had. They didn't tell me what stage I was in. They just told me, Mr Gomez, you have cancer," said Taboo, 42. "My life flashed before my eyes. I thought about my kids, I thought about my wife. Nothing prepares you for the shock of someone telling you you have that horrible disease."
That was in 2014. It was only last year that Taboo went public about his struggle with cancer - now in remission after a gruelling series of chemotherapy treatments.
Today, the Los Angeles native is an ambassador for the American Cancer Society and a vocal ally and fundraiser for cancer survivors everywhere.
He spoke to AFP ahead of the World Cancer Leaders' Summit in Mexico City, which gathered high-level policy makers Tuesday (Nov 14) for an annual exchange on fighting the world's second-leading cause of death. It was not an easy journey to get there.
First Taboo went through an agonising series of chemotherapy treatments: 12 weeks of six-hour daily sessions that he describes as "war, torture and a nightmare" rolled into one. "That was the feeling," he said. "I've never been to war, but internally, when they're destroying your insides to kill everything that's good to kill that one thing that's bad, which is the tumour, it scarred me psychologically, emotionally, inside and outside."
The idea that dealing with cancer is a "battle" has come in for criticism lately from some who resent the violence of the analogy and the implication that those suffering from the disease just need to "fight harder."
But Taboo is an unapologetic anti-cancer warrior. He is intensely defiant when he talks about the disease. "I'm living, dude. I'm alive. See this face? I can actually smile and say, Look, I beat the f-- out of cancer," he said, mouthing the end of the expletive.
He spoke to AFP decked out in black, his bald head crowned by a wide-brimmed "zoot suit" hat evocative of his Mexican roots, and sporting turquoise-and-silver jewelry in a nod to his Native American heritage on his mother's side.
He cited his maternal grandmother as his biggest influence. "She's a Shoshone Native American woman who had a warrior instinct. And my warrior instinct kicked in" after he was diagnosed, he said. But you need both love and fight to deal with cancer, he added.
At the American Cancer Society, he wants to be an "ambassador of love," he said, breaking into the chorus of one of his biggest hits: Where Is the Love? Last year, as a fundraiser for the Cancer Society, he recorded a song called The Fight. His message today to others is that they can defeat cancer, too.
"I beat it down. And now I'm going to use this gift of life to give people hope and to say, Look, I went down that path too, I was there lying on that bed, you're not alone. I am one of you and you are one of me. Let's get charged up for life." Maybe the title of his next hit song.