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Dakota Coach makes a pitch towards cancer checkups

Football   | Jeff Dullack

Dakota Coach makes a pitch towards cancer checkups

Macomb - In February, Mike Giannone received news that no one ever wants to hear.

The Macomb Dakota head football coach was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a disease that affects one out of every seven men.

The diagnosis hit close to home with Giannone, having lost an uncle, Anthony, to prostate cancer five years ago at the age of 68.

"It was pretty devastating to get that word and you hear the word cancer, you think 'geez', because my uncle died of the same exact thing," he said. "Now, it's one of those things if you catch it early enough, it's definitely curable and I was lucky and fortunate enough that I went through all of my regular checkups and they caught it early and they said that they had got everything."

Giannone was fortunate. The diagnosis came early, before the cancer had a chance to grow. He went in for surgery as a part of the treatment process on March 11th and was cleared of cancer on July 13th.

With the knowledge of what his uncle went through, and remembering the advice given him, Giannone scheduled regular checkups allowing doctors to discover the disease early.

  "If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't have gotten checked as regularly, and before he died, he told us that we have to get checked out," he said. "He was a big sports fan. He was at every one of our games. He was just a great guy, so I made sure that I got all of those checkups along with my brother and my cousin and we continue to do that, just so that we do our due diligence."

As difficult as the road to recovery was for Giannone, he had help. Two coaches who coached with him at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley had also been diagnosed with the same cancer. Just being able to talk with someone in a similar situation was a big help to Giannone. It lessened certain concerns he had about the disease.

"Bob Schroeder, who I coached with at Chippewa Valley back then, and then Mike Carr who I also coached with at Chippewa Valley, we all coached at the same time and we all have it," he said. "It kind of eliminated some of the scare of the unknown because when you know somebody like Bob, he can tell me something. He was my mentor and pretty much guided me through what was going to happen and he made me feel a little at ease, so it did help a lot."

Schroeder hired Giannone as an assistant in 1989 when he was the head coach at Chippewa Valley. Schroeder, an assistant at Warren De LaSalle now, was diagnosed with prostate cancer nearly seven years ago, received treatment and has been cancer-free ever since.

"The thing about prostate cancer is that they (doctors) give you lots of different alternatives," Schroeder said. "There are about five or six different ways depending on when you catch it and you need to make those decisions when you talk to your doctor. (Giannone) talked to me about it early on, but my opinion was probably just one of many and then he was able to take a course of action."

When Giannone was diagnosed he felt it was necessary to inform his students and players because he had to take a month-long leave for his surgery and subsequent treatment. He said that the players, students and parents were all extremely supportive every step of the way.

Schroeder noted that at the beginning of Giannone's treatment his message to him was to stay positive.

"It affects your personal life, and Mike is a coach and an educator," he said. "He runs a great program so we just discussed being positive and always trying to be positive through all of this. I always try to be positive and so does Mike, he's fun to be around and that's an extremely good quality for a coach and teacher."

On July 13th, shortly before Dakota began conditioning in preparation for the season, Giannone received the news that he had been waiting and hoping for. He was cleared of cancer.

"They were joyful just because I've got three girls and a wife of 30 years and football is very important to me, but there are a lot of other things, my daughter just had a baby and now I have a granddaughter," he said. "I'm on the downward slope of my career and I want to be able to enjoy retirement as well."

Now that Giannone has been cleared, he still makes it a point to get to his regular checkups and doctor's visits, which is what helped him catch it early on and it's something that he recommends to everyone. He's proof that prostate cancer can be caught early and that maintaining a positive attitude is paramount in combatting the disease.

"Number one, get it checked out early and number two is just stay as positive as possible," he said. "There's a lot of people out there that care about you and they come through, I've got a lot of good friends and my family was good and everyone was supportive. But when it comes down to it, you're on your own. It's you and your immediate family and you struggle through it and whatever happens, happens and you have to be able to go through the tough times, but stay as positive as possible. It's like having a couple of tough losses, but you have to bounce back and keep fighting."