BLACK SABBATH’s TONY IOMMI: How I Found Out I Had Cancer

Guitar World magazine recently spoke to BLACK SABBATH guitarist Tony Iommi about the making of the band’s new album, “13” — the first in 35 years to feature Tony, singer Ozzy Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler — and his battle with lymphoma, with which he was diagnosed in late 2011.

“The [cancer] diagnosis came when I was doing my book tour [in 2011] before we starred rehearsal,” Iommi explained. “On the book tour, I saw a doctor because this lump appeared in my groin. We thought it was just a swollen gland, so he gave me antibiotics. After the book tour, I was going to L.A to start rehearsals. He said if it wasn’t gone in two weeks when I got there, I should see another doctor. So I did, because it was still there. He gave me more antibiotics, because I had developed an infection from this other problem I had with my prostate. It was too big and had to be cut down. So I thought the other lump was part of that. But it never went away. So we were rehearsing and writing, and I kept feeling this pain down in my groin. And Ozzy kept saying, ‘You don’t look really well.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, I don’t feel too good.’ He also told me to go get it checked out. I was going back to England to have the prostate operation, so I decided just to wait until then. They said they’d take out that other lump while they were in there. I thought nothing of it at all, but they found out it was cancer.”

He continued: [After they told me I had cancer] my whole life changed. And they’re so casual about it! They say, ‘The good news is that your prostate is really good. But the lump, we found lymphoma in it.’ Lymphoma, what’s that? Well, I knew what it was, but I wanted to hear them say it: cancer. Once I heard that, it was awful. I thought, God, of all the times!”

Asked if he immediately stopped working on the SABBATH album, Iommi said: “All my mind was on treatment and trying to get rid of it. That’s all I could really think about for awhile. I had to get this sorted out, so everything had to wait. I was in terrible pain from the prostate operation as well. And then I started the chemo. I didn’t feel well and started losing weight. Then I had radiotherapy [radiation] every day. But I did say to the guys while I was in treatment, ‘If you come to England, then we can carry on.’ I couldn’t move away from the treatment, and I was weak and tired. But I wanted to carry on…. I was determined that it wasn’t going to stop me. I’ve always been that way. I can’t give in to things. Having my wife, Maria [Sjöholm, former DRAIN STH vocalist] — who put up with so much and never complained — and friends around me was actually the best thing for me. It helped get my mind off of it. I would be in the hospital a couple of days before they’d come. And then I’d walk in the studio and we’d start talking and we’d play for a bit. Then I’d get tired and I’d have to go and sit down. They were all right behind me, so it was good.

“Of course, when I told Ozzy I have lymphoma, he said, ‘Didn’t so and so die of that?’ [laughs] Thanks! I had to laugh. Typical him. But it was great he was there. You’ve got to be positive about it, and I try as much as I can. Sometimes I start going downhill a little bit, and then I perk back up. I got so many nice letters and messages from fans saying, ‘You’ll be okay. Just hang in there!’ Even Lance Armstrong sent me a letter. And when [DEEP PURPLE keyboardist] Jon Lord was ill, before he passed away [in July 2012], I would get messages from him, saying, ‘Look, if there’s anything I can do to help with the treatments, just ask.’ It really does help and makes you want to fight more.”

The July 2013 issue of Guitar World magazine can be ordered at this location.


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