Awaiting cancer surgery, with class

Middle Township coach Tom Feraco , shown in 2002, is scheduled for cancer surgery Jan. 8. Inquirer, file
Middle Township coach Tom Feraco , shown in 2002, is scheduled for cancer surgery Jan. 8. Inquirer, file
Posted: December 15, 2013

Tom Feraco worked out with a purpose during the offseason because of the inexperience of his Middle Township boys' basketball team.

"Some teams, they know exactly where to go," Feraco said. "This team, I knew I would have to be out there on the court with them."

The coach knew he would have to show as well as tell.

Feraco has taken the same approach to the news that he has prostate cancer and will be forced to leave his team in early January to undergo surgery at Temple University Hospital.

Affable as ever, Feraco is telling everybody that his situation is a reminder of the importance of testing and prevention.

"I must have had 10 people come in the store and tell me, 'Tommy, I got my bloodwork done,' " said Feraco, whose family runs a liquor superstore in the Rio Grande section of Middle Township in Cape May County. "That's what this is all about for me. If we can help one person. . . ."

Feraco, 55, can talk with the best of them. He's a great storyteller, and he's happy to share the details of his diagnosis with anybody who crosses his path in sincere hope that his message will get through: People need to be proactive.

"Women need to get their mammograms," Feraco said. "Everybody needs to get their colonoscopies. And men need to get their PSA [Prostate Specific Antigen blood test]."

But there's a larger aspect to Feraco's open and energetic approach. He will be the first to insist that he's no hero, that he is fortunate to have been diagnosed at an early stage, that doctors have assured him that he's being "chased on a soccer field by a turtle."

"There are a lot of people - a lot of people - who are in a much tougher situation," Feraco said. "I don't need anything. I'm one of the lucky ones."

But it's important to understand that Feraco is not just telling his story for the benefit of others. He also is showing us all the best way to deal with a difficult situation.

Isn't that the message that coaches in every sport at every level try to impress upon their players? That bad things will happen? That what matters most is not whether you get knocked down, but if you get up?

Feraco is a public figure in the shore area and on the South Jersey basketball scene. He has won 670 games, nine South Jersey titles, and three state titles in 32 seasons. He's a Hall of Famer in this game.

People are paying attention. His sons, Tommy and Michael, his nieces and nephews, and his current players and his former players and all those folks who fill the stands at Middle Township games and follow one of South Jersey's most successful programs are watching to see how the man will handle this adversity.

They want to be reassured. They want to be inspired. They want to see strength, determination, and courage because they want to believe that when their time comes - and it comes for all of us - they will find the same qualities inside themselves.

Feraco is practicing what he has preached to his players for more than 30 years. He might have a few anxious moments when he looks at the ceiling in his bedroom at 3 a.m., but he is setting a shining example in his interactions with everybody.

"I'm telling you, I feel like a million bucks," Feraco said. "I never felt better."

His surgery is scheduled for Jan. 8. He wants to coach until Jan. 7, although his wife, Janine, thinks it might be better for him to stop on Jan. 6 and rest for a day.

He hopes to be back with his team a few weeks after the surgery. He knows that might be wishful thinking.

But he's a coach, through and through, and coaches build their careers on such scaffolding: This will work this way and that will work that way and the end result will be just as we diagrammed.

The best coaches and the best people are at their best when things don't go according to the plan.

Tom Feraco will look people in the eye and tell them to go get a test. And he will show them how to react when the results come back.


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/

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