UC Berkeley soccer legend Geoff McArthur has been diagnosed with cancer

Geoff McArthur sits in a hospital room at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

It’s Monday. He sounds tired. Sounding more tired than ever after one of the 51 games he played for the Cal football team between 2000 and 2003, he left the Golden Bears as the all-time leading receiver with 3,188 receiving yards.

McArthur — Aaron Rodgers’ top target during Rodgers’ two seasons at Berkeley — has diffuse large non-Hodgkin B-cell lymphoma, a treatable cancer with a 64 percent chance of a relative 5-year survival rate (i.e., 64 % of people with this type of lymphoma live as long as people without cancer over the next five years). The cancer has already spread to his neck, chest and abdomen, and doctors have been stabbing, scanning and sticking him with needles to see if he has since May 20 – when he was hospitalized and diagnosed spread to his brain and spine.

McArthur has already had his first round of chemotherapy and has more planned from now through September. And that’s getting expensive, especially since McArthur is between jobs — he recently stepped down as head football coach at St. Monica Catholic High School in Santa Monica and has a position as wide receivers coach at National High School’s football powerhouse St .John Bosco, something he describes as a “dream job.”

Thanks to what, for many, is a broken American healthcare system that ties health care to your employment, McArthur was forced to abruptly crowdfund his mounting medical bills. In less than 48 hours, he’s already raised more than $70,000 on GoFundMe with a list of donors that could easily be confused with a Cal list from the early 2000s. From JJ Arrington and Steve Levy (who left a note with his donation: “The Bear will not Quit, The Bear will not die. Love you #6”) to Langston Walker and Brian de la Puente, his former teammates jumped right in chance to be there for McArthur both financially and emotionally.

“I kept it to myself at first, I didn’t want people to know because what can anyone really do for you? They can wish you well, say they’re praying for you, but there’s not really anything anyone can do. I didn’t want it to be a big deal. But at the same time, I got to a point where I realized I couldn’t do this alone,” McArthur told SFGATE by phone Monday. “The first people I told about this were my girlfriend, my mom, my brother, then it was some of my Cal teammates.”

Burl Toler, the current Cal receiver coach, and DeSean Jackson, an NFL wideout, were some of the first to hear about it. Then McArthur told Tosh Lupoi and Chase Lyman. A Cal Football support group erupted, with Green Bay Packers quarterback Rodgers.

“That’s the cool thing about the binding that we had in 2003, 2004,” Rodgers told SFGATE over the phone. “There’s a shared connection, by putting your body on the line, it allows the guys to connect on a deeper level. What really impresses me is that we’ve grown older together, many of us are almost 40. It’s been about half my life since I was with Cal. There’s been some tragedy along the way, some deaths, some cancers and diseases, and it’s tough, but I think the good thing about these guys is that a lot of us stay in touch. It’s a great support system. That’s what [Cal head] Coach [Jeff] Tedford drummed it into us.

“It’s been so special to go to Cal for those two years, to be part of such a connected team and to see what real chemistry looks like – it doesn’t stop when you’re done playing.”

And while an injury-plagued career kept McArthur from pursuing his NFL dreams, he never gave up football. He has trained throughout Southern California and even worked in Canada for five years before eventually landing the coveted assistant role at Bosco.

And in true McArthur fashion, he’s determined to spend his downtime in the hospital – however long it lasts – preparing for the first game of the season, an affair on August 26 in Allen, Texas.

“I’ll get my script and watch a movie and make sure my recipients are well taken care of,” he said.

In the meantime, his Cal Support system makes sure he’s taken care of.

“We look to each other for support,” Toler told SFGATE. “I know how hard it is for him to say anything, but as soon as he shared the news, it was like, ‘What’s the plan of action?’ He knows how to do anything and he can do anything, but situations like this require more people to get involved.”

In fact, more and more Cal football greats have emerged to help: Toler and McArthur also mentioned Marshawn Lynch, Andre Carter and Tully Banta-Cain.

“Geoff is a really good person, was a great teammate and I think everyone loved him,” Rodgers said.

That recognition has stayed with McArthur throughout his career as a player and coach, as evidenced by the multitude of donors, including an anonymous donation of $25,000 — more than a third of the money raised.

“You want our healthcare system to not care who you work for or how long you work there,” Toler said. “In a situation like cancer, there doesn’t have to be waiting for status or income or job title or anything, it just needs to be managed. It’s definitely frustrating, but today there’s nothing to do about it. I’m just grateful that Geoff has influenced so many people. Sometimes when you need help you have to swallow your pride and ask for help, and everyone wants to give them something because they’ve given so much in the past.”

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