The Student News Site of East Lansing High School

Portrait

The Student News Site of East Lansing High School

Portrait

The Student News Site of East Lansing High School

Portrait

Fighting to be here

Feraco+celebrating+win+against+Lakeland+during+playoff+game+on+Nov.+3.
Photo by Tianna Tran
Feraco celebrating win against Lakeland during playoff game on Nov. 3.

The walls of Gianni Feraco’s office are lined with stories. When you walk into his office, your attention is immediately drawn to the wall-length mural of the football team behind his desk where players stand, huddled between two narrow walls while waiting to run onto the field. On the walls, rows of framed photos depict great triumphs: interceptions, touchdowns, tackles. 

On Sept. 14 we sat in Feraco’s office to hear his story. We asked him about his pictures, and a smile crept onto his face.

“Every single one of them has a story.” 

He asked us to choose one that spoke to us. A picture somewhere in the center of his collection caught our attention. All the other photos depicted multiple players, but this one was only focused on one. It was a photo of graduate Asher Gregory (‘21) running down the field. It was taken during the 2021 football game against DeWitt. What was supposed to be a high-powered match-up turned into a nightmare for East Lansing when they lost their two best quarterbacks. 

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“Gregory fought till the very end, even though we lost that game, he always gave all of his heart for us,” Feraco said.

Surrounded by fighters, Feraco sat in the middle of his office, tucked in the back end of the school and shared his own story of triumph and courage.

His story of cancer.

Photos of Gianni Feraco’s family and pets sits in the corner of his desk. Photo by Joelle King

Working at ELHS was never on Feraco’s radar. He graduated from Albion College with a degree in Economics and Management and aspirations to become a financial advisor. However, in 2009, he decided to take a break before starting his new life in finance. This led to him receiving a coaching offer from his dad, English teacher William Feraco.

“He said ‘you know if you’re not sure exactly what you want to do, why don’t you hop on the coaching staff, and you can become a substitute teacher,’” Gianni said.

And that’s exactly what he did. Hopping from district to district as a substitute teacher, Gianni soon realized that he belonged at a school.

“Obviously coaching is what really grabbed me and kept me around,” Gianni said. “I was like, ‘wow, I really liked this and for some reason, I’m very good at it. I’m very good at relating to the kids.’”

After his second year of coaching, Gianni felt as if he owed it to himself to utilize his degree and “try the finance thing out.” He moved to Chicago in 2011, but he quickly felt that it wasn’t the place for him. He knew his calling and his home were back in East

Lansing with the football team. He moved back less than two years later.

But Feraco’s journey to ELHS didn’t end there. For a couple of years, he took a break from subbing to explore different careers. He was still able to coach, but he now had a family to support financially after he married former ELHS German teacher Diane Bell. He took a full-time job at a realty company. Those years were hard for him because he felt disconnected from the school he had grown to love.

“It’s so hard to build relationships with kids if you’re only with them for those couple hours after school,” Gianni said. “You guys in your natural environment with everybody else, that’s where you build the relationships and without that aspect, it was like there was a void for me. Like I was part of the football community, but I didn’t feel like I was part of the school as much anymore.”

Photo of Asher Gregory hangs on Gianni’s wall along other photos from previous games.
Courtesy Photoe relationships and without that aspect, it was like there was a void for me. Like I was part of the football community, but I didn’t feel like I was part of the school as much anymore.”

But in 2021, everything changed when Gianni got an offer from the school to become a student advocate. Feraco’s experience at ELHS had been limited to coaching and popping in and out of students’ lives as a substitute teacher. For the first time, he had the chance to meet the full spectrum of students at the school and become a part of the community. At graduation, he noticed that he recognized far more names than he did in years past. 

“I’ve seen lots of kids walk the stage, lots of players, but for the first time, I really felt connected with kids who were not football players,” Gianni said.

 And he was good at what he did. He specialized in helping students who needed academic help maximize their potential and feel more confident about their grades. He offered an unconventional form of support that most students hadn’t experienced.

“Some of them need, what you may call, tough love, or they need to be pushed a little harder than they’ve been pushed before,” Gianni said.

Feraco found a community and he embraced it. It took him years to get back to ELHS and he knew his journey brought him home to where he was always meant to be. He finally settled into his role and shared that his wife was expecting their first child. He felt like he was thriving.

But that feeling didn’t last.

In the spring of 2023, during his second year as a student advocate, Feraco discovered what he thought was just a knot in his leg. He thought it might be an injury from working out. However, after several visits to the athletic trainer, she became concerned. The knot seemed to grow every time she examined it. 

She suggested that Gianni talk to a member of Michigan State Athletic Training Staff, team physician’s assistant Mike Strauss who would be there to help out during the basketball game that was taking place in the evening. Strauss examined the knot and told Gianni not to be too concerned, but just to be safe, he would be sending him in for X-rays and MRIs. Gianni didn’t want to waste any time, so he went in for the tests the following day. 

Gianni Feraco stands with BJ Windham (11) during football practice on Oct. 2.

 

When he called the radiologist for results, he was met with the first hint that he was in a much more serious situation than he anticipated.

 “I’ve got some not-so-good news. It’s a solid mass.”

“Solid mass” doesn’t automatically mean cancer. It could be a benign tumor, which is what the radiologist assumed Gianni’s tumor was. But solid mass does mean there is reason for concern, so Gianni was sent to the Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak for further testing. The cancer specialist at Beaumont felt Gianni’s tumor and concluded that it was a sarcoma. He assured Gianni to just see the tumor as a solid mass for the time being.

“He said if he sees 200 of these, 199 come back benign,” Gianni said.

The specialist sent Gianni to get a biopsy to determine whether or not the cells in the tumor were cancerous. After the procedure he tried to go about his business, reassuring himself that according to his specialist, the odds were in his favor. And then on March 21, as he was preparing to leave to go to the boy’s basketball game in Caledonia, he answered a fateful call from his doctor. “I’ve got some bad news. Your tumor is cancerous and it’s called a myxoid liposarcoma.”

“So you know, a 0.5% chance of being cancerous, and I just happen to be that person,” Feraco said.

Feraco panicked. His dad would be coming to pick him up any second to go to the game and he just found out he had cancer. 

“I remember exactly. I was getting in the car to drive over and pick him up to go to the regional basketball game,” William said. “I think that he was distraught, and he said, ‘I’m not going to be able to go to the game with you.’ I knew immediately what it was.”

William spent the entire evening with him while the doctors put a plan in place to start chemotherapy and radiation as soon as possible to stop the growth of the sarcoma and prevent the spread of cancerous cells.

Gianni coaches during playoff game against Everett on Oct. 27
Photo by Maggie Carney

“It was a situation where you just decided okay, this is what has to be done. This is what we’re gonna do. And we’re gonna get through this as best we can,” William said.

Furthermore, he had to inform his colleagues of his diagnosis. He set up a meeting with associate principal, Jeffrey Lampi.

“We had a conversation through a lot of tears, because of how much I love him as a friend,” Lampi said. “And as a colleague talked about it. We actually prayed for him.”

After the initial shock, Gianni was left to pick up the pieces and make a plan for himself. It was the week before spring break, and he and his wife were expecting their first child within a few weeks. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to come back to school for the rest of the year.

On March 26, the first Sunday of spring break, baby Enzo Feraco was born.

“Seeing him for the first time, and knowing what I have, and knowing my wife who I have to fight for and now this beautiful child who I have to fight for to be there for, that’s what got me through it,” Gianni said.

During their stay at the hospital’s maternity ward, Gianni had to travel to Beaumont to have a port put in so doctors could administer his chemo medicine and get scans to make sure the Myxoid Sarcoma wasn’t anywhere else in his body. Fortunately, it wasn’t, which was a spark of hope for Gianni and his family.

On April 10, Gianni started his first cycle of chemotherapy. He had to do four cycles every three weeks. He was simultaneously doing radiation proton therapy which required him to drive to Royal Oak and back every day from Monday through Friday for the weeks of his treatment. This time was physically demanding, but he was resolute.

“Just get there because I know it’s what’s right for me and it’s going to make me better and give me the best chance to get healthier, and then go get back home and see my son,” Gianni said.

During the chemotherapy, he was so weak he couldn’t come down from his bedroom. He entered a cycle

Feraco stands by his door during second hour on Nov. 6
Photo by Joelle King

 where he would lose 20 pounds during his treatment weeks and then gain it back during the following three weeks. He struggled, but he fought on for Enzo and his wife.

By June, the radiation treatments eliminated 95 percent of Gianni’s cancer. After letting his body rest and heal from the chemotherapy, on July 18 he was able to get the surgery he needed to remove the rest of his tumor. 

“And so that happened,” Gianni said. “I was, you know, hobbled for the rest of the summer.”

On Sept. 8 he had his first postoperative examination. Checking the first place the cancer could spread to his lungs, with a CT scan, Gianni was able to hear for a second time he was cancer-free. For the next two years, he will have to get scanned every three months to stay sure, with spread-out checkups for five years after.

“One of the first things my orthopedic oncologist told me, after we have the surgery, we’re gonna be friends for a long time because once it’s out, for the next five years, at least, I’ll keep going back,” Gianni said.

Throughout his entire battle, Gianni was never left unsupported. At all times he had his family, friends, and East Lansing community by his side, whether it was physically or emotionally. 

“It’s 100 percent family, my friends and the support I got from our East Lansing community, I don’t think it could be matched.”

Coming back, Gianni is excited to reconnect with all the students who weren’t aware of the reason for his absence last year. However, the first couple weeks of school were difficult for him. He was worried that he wouldn’t have enough energy to provide for all the students he worked with. 

Feraco sitting at his desk during second hour on Nov. 6
Photo by Joelle King

“There were days during the first two weeks of school where I was going home and I was just drained,” Gianni said. “Like school and home from practice, just almost immediately to bed.”

Gianni also had to adjust to leaving his son to go to work during the day. Saying goodbye to Enzo on the first day of school was scary for him, so he always finds ways to visit during the day. 

“During lunch every day, I race home right around the corner just to be home and see him for that 15 minutes or so and then get back,” Gianni said.

But after over six months of fighting, Gianni feels like he has been able to adjust back. 

“I feel like I’m sort of starting to finally hit my groove again,” Gianni said.

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About the Contributors
Joelle King, Photography Editor
Joelle King is in the class of 2025 and is a Photography Editor for Portrait.  This is her second year on staff as a junior.  Joelle's favorite thing about journalism is telling stories through video. When she is not in the newsroom, Joelle loves competitive dancing and reading.
Holyn Walsh, Editor-in-Chief of Copy
Holyn Walsh is a member of the Class of 2025 and one of the Staff Writers for Portrait. This is Holyn’s first year on staff as a freshman. Holyn’s favorite thing about journalism is being able to connect with people and share their stories. When she is not in the newsroom, Holyn loves swimming and watching horror movies.  

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