Anthony DeMaio spent much of his younger life hiding from the spotlight. Today, he lives authentically in his personal and professional life. He also embraces the spotlight more figuratively — through a number of appearances on the small screen.
Anthony, a senior physician relations liaison at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), regularly appeared on Romper Room as a kid. He has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and has been a contestant on both Wheel of Fortune and $100,000 Pyramid. “Putting myself out there on TV, particularly game shows, is something I do to make up for my younger self being a bit more reserved and scared to be myself,” Anthony explains.
This fun pursuit also is, in part, a tribute to Anthony’s grandmother Joan, whom he lovingly called Nana Banana. “Nana always pushed me to be me,” he says. “To step out of the box.”
The Wakeup Call
Anthony’s grandmother passed away from metastatic lung cancer in 2011 — it served as a wakeup call. At the time, he was working around the clock in a job he wasn’t passionate about. “I was miserable,” he recalls. “When big life moments [such as Nana dying] happen, I become terrified that time is flying by too quickly. I knew then I needed to do something different.”
This realization spurred Anthony to apply to MSK. In 2014, he secured a role in the Adult Survivorship Program, which provides services for MSK patients who have completed cancer treatment. Anthony’s decision to change careers was reaffirmed when he started working at MSK and met “some of the coolest people ever,” he says — including Joanne Candela and Roseann Tucci, nurse practitioners in the Adult Long-Term Follow-Up (ALTFU) program.
“I saw how [Joanne and Roseann] showed up every day and were deeply engaged with our patients,” he notes. “They also supported and inspired me. They really did change the trajectory of my career.”
After the Adult Survivorship Program, Anthony worked in MSK’s Office of Development before moving to his current role, in 2019. Today, as a senior physician relations liaison, Anthony is responsible for managing the relationships between MSK’s physicians and outside clinicians, medical organizations, and societies.
Journey of a Lifetime
During his first year at MSK, Anthony joined the LGBTQ+ Pride Employee Resource Network (ERN). He also walked for the first time in New York City’s Pride March. Both were significant personal milestones.
“As a kid, I hated the Pride parade, because I thought if people talked about it or said the word gay, questions would be directed my way or somehow out me,” he says.
Anthony’s fear was shaped by a lifetime of being shunned by loved ones, brutalized by peers, and discriminated against in the workplace. He recalls a close family member’s reaction to learning that Anthony may be gay: “[He] told me I would burn in hell and hasn’t spoken to me in more than 15 years.”
In high school, Anthony came out to a few close friends. But other classmates “who heard [he] was gay” bullied and beat him up.
Anthony also faced backlash early on in his career. At a former company, a boss reprimanded him for sharing he was gay with a client. “I was told to never do that again, because we worked for a very conservative organization,” Anthony explains.
Tired of being closeted, Anthony wanted his family to “know me, who I was, and who I loved.” So he again came out when he was in was in his late 20s — first to his “incredibly supportive” sister, Nicole. “I think she knew I was gay before I told her,” he says, adding, “she had been helping me fight off the bullies for years.”
A few years later, Anthony told his parents: “[They] came around, asked the right questions about what it means to be a good parent and ally, and they have been ever since.”
One of most meaningful experiences for Anthony happened when he came out to his nephew, who was then 9 years old. “He said, ‘You like guys the way Mommy likes Daddy,’ ” Anthony recalls. “That was it. No tears, no spectacle. No drama. He took it in as information and not as some big announcement. For the first time in my life, me being gay just was. It was a cool part of my journey as a gay man.”
Anthony’s family is very close with his boyfriend of six years, Bradley, an Intensive Care Unit physician at Weill Cornell Medical Center. “He’s a fantastic man,” Anthony says. “Whenever I think my job is hard, I think of what it is like for him, especially what he faced working during the pandemic. I’m incredibly inspired and proud of him.”
The Importance of Pride Month
As co-lead of MSK’s LGBTQ+ Pride ERN, Anthony is currently busy helping finalize MSK’s participation in this year’s NYC Pride March (June 26), where MSK will work to raise awareness and funds for LGBTQ+-related cancer care and research.
Anthony takes his leadership role to heart. “LGBTQ+ Pride gives people a sense of belonging, which matters to someone who may have been hiding for so long,” he says. “That’s what got me excited to be part of [the ERN]. It’s an also incredible way to meet people like you and make friends.” He adds: “It’s a cool part of my job. I’m trying to make it better and better.”