Student with cancer finds support from rugby, lacrosse teams


When USF Rugby player Marshall Weaver was diagnosed with cancer at 19, he assumed his rugby days were over. 

What he didn’t expect was the overwhelming support from teammates, friends and fellow athletes.

In January, doctors diagnosed Weaver, a sophomore majoring in economics, with an osteosarcoma tumor in
his leg. 

“When you first get diagnosed there’s a time period I like to call the ‘Oh s—‘ moment,” he said. “For a couple days you think ‘Oh s—, this is really happening.'”

After a few weeks, Weaver said he was able to come to terms with the diagnosis. 

Rather than sulking at home, Weaver visited friends and his positivity began to return.

Grant Wallenfelsz,
a sophomore majoring in
biomedical science and one of Weaver’s good friends, said Weaver seems more upbeat now than even before the diagnosis.

“He’s always in a great mood and cracking jokes even through what he’s going through now,” Wallenfelsz said.

Since hearing the diagnosis roughly eight weeks ago, many of Wallenfelsz’s USF friends tossed around the idea of shaving their heads in support of Weaver as he goes through multiple rounds of chemotherapy.

“When we first found out me and my roommates kind of joked about doing it, but that’s all it was at that point,” Wallenfelsz said.

Chemotherapy patients don’t immediately change in appearance. It wasn’t until Weaver sent his friends a Snapchat following his second cycle of chemo that his friends committed to the idea.

Eight of Weaver’s friends from the rugby club, the lacrosse club and some unaffiliated showed up at the hospital together – heads shaved. 

“When he actually did start losing his hair he sent us a Snapchat, completely bald, looking like Mr. Clean, so we all said, ‘Hey, we should actually do this.’ The next Tuesday night we all got together and did it and went to see him,” Wallenfelsz said.

His friend’s show of support left Weaver surprised and somewhat relieved.

“It was good to see that you’re not the only one who has to look goofy,” Weaver said. “It was really cool and I think it struck me that I do have actually have really good friends.”

When players from both the rugby and lacrosse club teams showed up to practice the next day some teammates asked questions. 

Their bald heads spurred support for Weaver. 

More lacrosse players began to visit the hospital, and a few who used to train with Weaver decided to shave their heads in support as well.

“When I would go to practice, people would ask me what was going on with Marshall,” Alex Poirier, a sophomore majoring in health sciences and a member of the lacrosse team, said. “Immediately people wanted to know where he was, if they could visit and what they could do.” 

To stay focused on his health, Weaver withdrew from all of his classes this semester. 

He said the support of friends and fellow athletes is what allows there to be even a possibility of normalcy in his daily routine.

“I was fortunate enough to live pretty close to the Tampa area,” he said. “”If I lived like six hours away and I couldn’t come up here and see them on a regular basis it would be terrible. It’s something that makes every day a lot easier.”

After the second round of chemo at Moffitt Cancer Center, Weaver will undergo a partial knee replacement and partial tibia removal. There will be four additional rounds of chemo after the surgery.

While Weaver still has a long road ahead, doctors believe the cancer will not be life threatening with the help of chemotherapy and surgery.

“It’s kind of upsetting when someone tells you you’re not going to be able to do physical activities anymore and play rugby,” Weaver said. “But when you hear you have cancer it’s not exactly the worst thing in the world. At least it was, ‘Yeah, you can’t play sports, but you’re going to live.'”

In the grand scheme of things, Weaver said he has learned a lot about life and friendship over the last few months. He said the experience has taught him to cherish his friendships.

“You’re constantly reminded that you’re only here for whatever time it may be, so I definitely smile a little more,” he said. “Not that I didn’t already, but it’s easier to just say ‘See you later’ than it is to say ‘Hey man, it was really good seeing you.'”

Weaver’s friends said they couldn’t agree more.

“These kinds of situations really make you realize who your real friends are and who you will do anything for,” Wallenfelsz said. “I think Marshall has realized that more than any of us.”