TAMPA — Mason Foster didn't know his mother was living with esophageal cancer. He didn't know she had been given a 3 percent chance of survival, lost 80 pounds and was so sick from chemotherapy, she could barely get out of bed.
Margarette Foster insisted on it. Her husband of 35 years, William, who had just retired from American Water so he could follow Mason from their home in Seaside, Calif., to stadiums all over the NFL, instead became the primary caregiver, carrying a small basin wherever they went because of the nausea.
"I hadn't really been home because my grandfather had just passed away, too," Mason Foster, 24, said. "When I finally saw her (after last season), I could tell something was terribly wrong."
In 2012, Foster was entering his second season as the Bucs' middle linebacker, learning a new system under defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan and playing alongside rookie Lavonte David.
So Margarette, terrified of what was happening and the prospect of impending death, faced a choice. Do you tell everybody you love you have cancer, how you fear dying and want them to know what they mean to you? Or do you spare them the agony of learning about how sick you are?
"It is hard," said Margarette, who also did not tell her daughter, Taylen, at San Jose State. "It's the shock of your life when you get that diagnosis: cancer.
"Especially me. I was always working out. We always ate healthy. I'd been a Weight Watchers leader, and then all of a sudden I lose 80 pounds without trying. I was like, 'Whoa! This can't be happening.' "
Margarette teaches in the dental assistant program at Monterrey Peninsula College in Monterey, Calif. She knows the dangers of radiation.
"My whole life, I would hear someone has cancer, and I would say, 'That's too bad,' " Margarette said. "And I would go on about my day. But now I say, 'Oh, no, really?' People do not know the full impact."
• • •
Training camp practice had just ended one day last week when Mason stripped off his shoulder pads and walked quickly to the tent bordering the south end zone of Field No. 1, where his parents waited.
William wore his son's No. 59 jersey and two rubber bracelets. One read, "No One Stands Alone." The other read, "What Would Jesus Do?"
The discussion was about Mason's 5-month-old son, Rylan Kash, whom his parents were seeing for the first time during their monthlong stay in Tampa.
Margarette says she and William sold their house. He bought a small boat the couple can live on that is harbored in Washington. When Margarette teaches, she stays at the home of friends.
"We're Bohemians," Margarette said. "That's the word they use for us. Everybody thinks we've gone crazy. But when you go through (cancer), you say, 'We've got to live life to the fullest.' "
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"Don't sweat the small stuff," William said.
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These are good days for the Fosters. Mason is coming off a productive season in which he had 82 tackles, two sacks and an interception.
The prospect of Foster and David lining up together for the next few seasons excites coach Greg Schiano.
"I thought Mason grew in this defense. And as he learned it and understood it better, he got better and better," Schiano said of the 6-foot-1, 242-pounder. "I thought he was a playmaker. I thought he did some good things. I think this offseason, he's made huge strides. I think he understands it umpteen times better. I think he reacts more quickly because of that. And I don't think, I know he's a guy who loves it and wants to be the best."
Margarette, whose cancer has disappeared, has put back much of the weight. The only reminder is some hearing and short-term memory loss.
"Chemo brain, they call it," she said.
"She's doing okay right now," Mason said. "She beat it. But it was real tough. She was going through it a long time with the chemo and then battling. But she's a warrior. She's my hero. I never thought she wouldn't beat it even during our darkest days."
Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @tampabay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.