The Supporter: Tony Iannessa
I found it. I knew something wasn’t right.

As told to Britt Julious

I found it. I knew something wasn’t right. I told my wife Alex over and over and over and over again. I continued to pester her: Go see the doctor. When she finally made an appointment, [they thought] it was nothing. My daughter was 11 months at the time, [and my wife] was still breastfeeding. She was 31 years old at the time, so when we first found the lump, nobody thought it was cancer. The doctor said that it was probably a clogged milk duct. But it wasn’t. She was diagnosed with stage II triple-negative breast cancer.

Because Alex would have to go through chemotherapy, we did preemptive IVF. Later, she did 16 rounds of chemotherapy, the AC, and then she got into a clinical trial with the drug Keytruda. Almost every Monday for 4 to 6 months, we were at the University of Chicago all day. She ultimately had a bilateral mastectomy.

I handled this whole situation very much like a business. For better or worse, right or wrong, I compartmentalized everything. When I was [at work], I focused on work. When I was home, I focused on being home. I kind of turned into a robot. I didn’t know any other way to get through it.

I became an advocate for my wife. I’d ask questions; I got a lot of answers I wasn’t comfortable with. I did my own research, and we still missed things. I shudder to think what people who are less educated, can’t speak the language, or don’t have the financial means have to go through. We’re not the experts, but that doesn’t mean they know all the answers, either.

That didn’t allow me any time to deal with the emotional stuff that came along with it. Once you get done with the treatment, you’re only just beginning. It’s a work in progress. We’re trying to get back to where we were, but it’s never going to be the same.

After the fact, I discovered Imerman Angels, and I decided I was going to become a mentor. I have three or four guys that are my age going through a very similar experience to mine. I know that it helps. And somewhat selfishly, I have a group of guys I can talk to about stuff my friends or brothers or parents don’t understand.


Organizations We Support

10 Years of Twist Out

Twist Out Cancer is celebrating a decade of supporting the cancer community, and founder Jenna Benn Shersher says the organization’s reach is far from slowing down.

Read More »
(Y)our Stories

All in the Family

Twenty years after his death from bile duct cancer, legendary Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton’s legacy lives on in a new documentary, “Savoring Sweetness,” produced by his son, Jarrett.

Read More »
Complementary Medicine

Masculinity: Keeping It Real

In the face of rigid societal roles and expectations, like masculinity, your authentic self can become overshadowed and lost. But you owe it to yourself to stay true to your inner identity, cultivating it free of performative constraints.

Read More »
Ask the Doctor

Buying Better Time

Dr. Jessica Donington, the chief of thoracic surgery at the University of Chicago, wants to keep mesothelioma patients living not just longer, but better, too.

Read More »
working with cancer
Guidance From Experts & Survivors

To Work or Not to Work

Work may be the last thing on your mind in the midst of a cancer diagnosis, but familiarizing yourself with workplace policies will give you time to focus on your health — in and out of the office.

Read More »