Digging for Dad

At this point last year, Marco Nogueira was on his way to Tampa to watch his daughter, USF volleyball player Juliana Nogueira, compete for the first time in college. He was excited about the trip and happy to finally see Juliana play.

Juliana, however, had suffered a season-ending calf injury to both legs and was in the hospital preparing for surgery.

Unaware of this, Marco made the trip and spent many nights in the hospital instead of in the Corral.

Neither Marco nor Juliana had any idea that her stay in the hospital was the beginning of a whirlwind of events that would alter their lives.

Marco became ill during his stay in Tampa and returned home to Rio de Janeiro with little improvement in health.

He recalls the first time he began to think something wasn’t right with his body.

“I was watching Lance Armstrong on the Tour de France, and he talked about how to check yourself for lumps,” Marco said. “So I started feeling under my armpits, my neck, below my abdomen, and I felt some lumps.”

His cousin, Andre Jansen, a Brazilian doctor, encouraged Marco to have some blood work done to make sure the lumps weren’t cancerous. But Marco’s worst fears were confirmed when he was informed he had lymphoma, a form of cancer.

After the diagnosis, Marco was admitted to the hospital and immediately started chemotherapy. He embarked on six months of major chemotherapy, which left a lump on his chest two inches in diameter.

He went through four hours of chemotherapy a day for those first six months. The chemotherapy took away more than 60 percent of the cancer, but also sapped Marco’s energy.

He continued to battle through it because his joy for life and sport – he’s a five-time Ironman tri-athlete in Brazil and Hawaii – drove him to keep fighting.

“Sport was so important in helping me overcome my battle with cancer,” Marco said. “They pushed me hard in my therapy because I was an athlete, and my workouts helped me through this process.”

Despite the rigorous schedule he went through, Marco always put on a smile for Juliana and his family. Even though he had little energy, Marco never wanted them to know how much he was hurting.

Juliana not only had to deal with her own injuries, but also had to be strong for her family. She didn’t find out about her father’s illness until she returned home after the spring semester, when she was already struggling with the death of her great-grandmother.

On top of it all, she was still mourning the loss of friend and former men’s basketball player Bradley Mosley, who died of renal cancer on Oct. 29, 2005.

“I had told my dad about Mosley’s situation, but he never told me that he had cancer at the time,” Juliana said. “I wasn’t upset that they waited to tell me because they didn’t want me to worry during school.”

Once she found out about her father, Juliana put on a happy face any time she was around her dad and kept telling him how great he looked. She admitted that Marco was hard on her, and she was very worried about her father’s health.

At the end of the summer, Juliana had to decide whether to stay at home with her family or return to USF for her senior season. Her father made sure Juliana didn’t have to battle with that decision and told her to go back to school.

“I knew that if I stayed that he would feel bad, that he was the reason I stayed,” Juliana said. “He was being so strong in his fight, so I had to be strong, and now I’m happy that I made that decision.”

Marco embarked on the same journey back to the campus a year later to finally see his daughter on the volleyball court. This time, however, he has a cause for making the trip along with watching Juliana.

The volleyball team is in its third year of raising money for the “Dig for the Cure” campaign to help find a cure for breast cancer. For the past month, the players have been collecting monetary contributions for the campaign.

“This has been a meaningful thing for me to do during my career,” senior Johari Williams said. “Knowing that we are raising money for a cause, we try to get as many digs as possible. I’ve had people in my family deal with cancer issues along with some players’ family members on the team, so it goes to the heart of everyone on the team.”

Individual sponsors have pledged money for each dig recorded in Sunday’s victory over Rutgers or have pledged a flat amount for the cause. All the money raised will go directly to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

“This is really cool, and I was involved in stuff like this during high school, so I like doing these kinds of things,” freshman Brittany Castelamare said. “This is a great thing, and it puts more emphasis on making great passes during the match.”

The volleyball team estimates about $3,400 has been raised so far.

Juliana’s father was pleased to finally see her play and was nearly speechless about his feelings on the trip.

Marco will be in Tampa until the Notre Dame game on Nov. 5, which is Parent Night.

“It was great to see her on the floor after everything she went through with her injuries,” Marco said. “I’m just very happy to be here and able to watch her play.”