Today, actor Paul Iacono is flying high as the funny star of The Hard Times of RJ Berger (about a well-endowed geek!), MTV's second highest-rated scripted show of all time.
But as an 8-year-old aspiring peformer in Secaucus, NJ, Iacono's dreams of stardom were almost cut short when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Now 22 and cancer-free since age 11, the talented Iacono opens up for the very first time about his near-death childhood experience -- and two and a half grueling years of chemotherapy -- in the new Us Weekly, out now.
Although he was "surrounded by family" throughout the struggle, Iacono endured countless lowpoints, he admits. He sensed that the situation was grave from the very beginning, for example, before the word "cancer" was even uttered.
"[My mom] just started to cry," he tells Us of an early memory of his mother packing his suitcase for an overnight hospital stay. "To see your parents so upset, you know something is wrong. You know something is not OK. I mean, you have to realize, up until that point, I had never been a sick kid, never broken a bone or even gotten a stitch. I was scared."
Iacono soldiered on through intensive treatments, going into the hospital daily for painful, nausea-inducing chemo treatments. "But I didn't lose my hair," he says gratefully. "That's a compliment to my Italian 'fro!"
In a moment of particular despair, alone in his hospital room, Iacono tells Us, "Right there I made a deal with God that if he let me live, I would try to do really great things....I'm in remission now. I wouldn't say that I'm religious, but I'm definitely a spiritual person."
Adds the inspiring star: "I learned life is short. You have to go for it!"
For much more of Iacono's emotional, first-ever sit-down about his life-changing experience, pick up the new Us Weekly, out now.