Ulster rugby star tells of devastation after his son's cancer diagnosis
Rugby star Paul Marshall has revealed his son's cancer diagnosis in August came completely out of the blue.
Ulster player Marshall, who has been turning out for the side since 2006 and has also represented Ireland on three occasions, spoke for a first time yesterday of the news that two-year-old Luke has been battling the illness for the past three months.
The 32-year-old, who attended Methodist College in Belfast before becoming a professional rugby player, married wife Miriam in 2012 and the couple have one other child, a three-year-old daughter named Eleanor.
Marshall, a devout Christian, admitted that the diagnosis, which came right on the eve of Ulster's season, was both sudden and unexpected.
"The first week of the season my son Luke got diagnosed with a form of cancer, which came completely out of the blue," he said. "It's something that we weren't expecting obviously, as I'm sure most families don't."
His son's illness has meant the scrum-half has missed a number of games for the province this season due to what were described at the time as "personal reasons", most recently earlier this month when Luke required an operation.
Tending to his son after the procedure meant Marshall sat out games against rivals Leinster and a trip to South Africa to play Southern Kings.
Marshall thanked Ulster for their understanding during the difficult period.
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"For the first part of the season I've been away quite a bit because I've had to deal with things at home," he said. "I'm really thankful to Bryn (Cunningham, Ulster's Operations manager) and Les (Kiss, the team's Director of Rugby) and the whole organisation - everyone has been really supportive. It's ongoing and it will be for another while, but we are just pleased that he's receiving treatment and we're really thankful to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. All the medical staff have been absolutely amazing."
While it has been a difficult time for the family, last weekend was at least one to savour as Luke was able to celebrate his second birthday 24 hours before his father made his 200th Ulster appearance in the side's win over Treviso, just the fifth man to ever hit the milestone.
"It was his second birthday on Thursday and I got my 200th game for Ulster on Friday so it was a nice couple of days for us as a family," he explained.
"It was a tough game. My 100th game was away and my 150th game was away, so it was nice to get my 200th cap at home in front of friends and family and it was even better to mark the occasion with a win.
"My family has sacrificed so much to help me in my career. It's at times like this that you realise how much your wife does, especially when you're on away trips and she's running around after a couple of kids at home. It really puts a different perspective on your family life.
"I guess for me, to be able to play in the games that I have this season, it's been a bit of a stress reliever from other areas of life.
"Usually you're trying to get away from rugby, whereas rugby has probably allowed me to switch off from other things that have been going on."
While Marshall will naturally be putting family first for the foreseeable future, he is still expected to play a part in Ulster's next game this weekend.