BLACK SABBATH’S TONY IOMMI ON WHY HIS CANCER SCARE WON’T STOP HIM ROCKING
Warren Manger of the Mirror reports:
Rock legend Tony Iommi, 66, had just begun working on a new album with Ozzy Osbourne and his Black Sabbath bandmates when he was diagnosed with the blood cancer lymphoma in January 2012. But he was determined not to let the gruelling treatment stop him working.
When the doctors told me I had cancer I thought, ‘That’s it then.’ Cancer was death as far as I was concerned. I found a painful lump in my groin while I was in New York promoting my book. I thought it was my prostate acting up again, but Ozzy told me I should get it checked out. I came back to England and had an operation to reduce my prostate. It was painless but afterwards I needed a catheter. When that came out I went to see the surgeon.”
He adds, “ ‘Good news on the prostate. It’s been cut down to a sensible size and everything is good there. But on the lump we took out, we found follicular lymphoma.’ It’s a type of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I went for scans to see if it had spread. It hadn’t. But I was still suffering the after effects of my prostate operation. All the antibiotics and other medication had knocked me about a lot, I was really weak and tired. The band had just started work on our latest album, 13, so I got the guys together to tell them the bad news. Ozzy came in and said: ‘Oh yeah, didn’t so and so die from that?’ Which is exactly not what you want to hear. I thought, ‘Thanks a lot, Mr. Bloody Cheerful.’ But that’s Ozzy all over, he always puts his foot in it. It was a relief to be working on the album because it gave me something to focus on instead of sitting there waiting to die. Some days I could join in, other days I felt too ill. But the band knew it would be like that. Ozzy was actually really helpful. It was good to have someone around who had experienced it all before because you always fear the worst when you talk about cancer. Ozzy went through a lot of that stuff when Sharon had colon cancer and it spread to her lymph nodes. When I felt tired he would say: ‘This is what happened with Sharon, you ought to go and lie down, have a rest.’ He even offered to make the tea, but he’s still Ozzy. He’d disappear for three hours then come back empty handed. You’d ask him, ‘Where’s the tea?’ And he’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I forgot.’ Once I got over my prostate operation the doctors started chemotherapy. I needed six courses of chemo, one every three weeks. It takes about six or seven hours to give it you on a drip. I had to change my whole lifestyle, including in the studio. We laugh about how different it was this time. In the good old days there was cocaine everywhere. This time we had tea and coffee and health drinks that my wife, Maria, made for me because I’ve had to change my diet. Thankfully red wine is still on the menu, though. I’m determined to hold on to as many of those little pleasures as possible. I can still go out for dinner with my friends, Jasper Carrott and ELO drummer Bev Bevan, too, but I have to ask if we can eat a little bit earlier these days.”
He continued, “Nobody is used to going to eat at 7pm, but I don’t have the energy to eat late and go out drinking until 2am. I need to go to bed early. It’s not very rock ’n’ roll, but it works for me. After we released the album we went on tour and played 81 shows in 28 countries. I really enjoyed it, but it was tough. After the illness I got really tired. Every six weeks I had to fly home for treatment at the Parkway Hospital in Solihull, just outside Birmingham. I was hooked up to a drip and given an antibody that sort of coats the cancer cells and stops them spreading. Then I had to be home for two or three weeks recovering before I could join up with the band again. We had to plan the whole tour around my treatment. That meant a lot of travelling. And to make matters worse, flying affects my blood cells now because of the cancer. By the time I got to the hotel I’d have anxiety, the shakes, all sorts of things I’d never had before. It was so bad I began worrying whether I was going to be all right. It took me two months to recover after the tour finished, but the doctors said: ‘What do you expect? You’ve been pushing yourself so hard.’ I finally finished my antibody treatment over the summer. It’s good in a way because I have more energy now, but I still don’t know whether the treatment worked.Because I had two different operations at the same time, one on my prostate and one on my lymph nodes, I had too many scans last year and too much radiation. So I can’t have any more scans yet. Every day I feel around for lumps and bumps. Every time I get a pain in my stomach I think, ‘Oh God, it’s cancer’. It’s horrible. I even dream about it. But that’s my life now. The surgeon told me he doesn’t expect the cancer to go away. There’s a 30 per cent chance that it could, but more than likely it will come back and it could be any time. I look at life differently now. I could be here another 10 years or just one year – I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if I should try to live a more peaceful life. Then I think, ‘I don’t want to let the illness take over’. After all, I enjoy where I’m at now. I’ve even become a guest lecturer at Coventry University after they awarded me an honorary doctorate. If someone had suggested that to me years ago I’d have turned it down, but I’ve been through a lot and I’ve learned from it, so it feels good to pass that on. These kids are fans too, so I love spending time with them. After everything that has happened, I couldn’t wish for anything better than that.”