At a northern Virginia hospital Monday, Rivera received his last round of chemotherapy and proton therapy, marking the end of his seven weeks of treatments. He still has several more weeks of follow-up appointments and scans, but Monday marked a milestone for Rivera.
As he left the hospital, he walked through a line of cheering staffers who waved pom-poms, tossed confetti and made noise with rattlers. They all wore black Rivera Strong T-shirts. He then rang the bell, raising his left fist, signaling the end of his treatments.
How it started. How it’s going! pic.twitter.com/PbBMovYIel
— Ron Rivera (@RiverboatRonHC) October 26, 2020
Rivera announced in August that he had squamous cell cancer, but that doctors had caught it in time and were optimistic about his prognosis. On Friday, Rivera said he was told the cancer was “headed in the right direction” and that doctors remain upbeat.
Because of his treatments, Rivera was unavailable to speak to the media, but his coordinators were thrilled with his latest development. Washington has a bye this week, allowing Rivera to get more rest after the chemotherapy.
He did not miss a game while being treated.
“I talked to Coach on the phone for a while last night,” offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. “I told him I was praying for him going into this last treatment. Obviously, we’re all very concerned and thinking about him as he goes through this stuff. His strength is unmatched. I’m happy for him that that stuff is over. I know these next couple days are going to be tough, just recovering from that. We’re here for him and really happy for him that he’s pushed through that.”
Rivera missed two practices and had to leave early during a third while undergoing treatments. It was especially tough during the previous two times when he needed chemotherapy. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio filled in for Rivera during those practices.
“We all admire his toughness,” Del Rio said. “He’s obviously in a big battle, a personal battle. We all feel for him. We pray for him a lot. We seek to kind of carry on. He’s laid out a great blueprint for us to follow. I’ll step in and do my part to help him rest assured that he can take care of himself and we’re going to carry on the business here while he’s taking care of himself. His toughness and his determination, it really stands out.”
During the week, Rivera would often have to leave the facility around 5 p.m., having his daughter Courtney, who works for the team, or his wife, Stephanie, drive him home. In a typical week, without treatments, Rivera said he’d be there until 8:30 p.m. at the earliest and perhaps as late as 11 on occasion.
On Friday, Rivera said the side effects surprised him.
“The fatigue, how tired you get, at times you get nauseous,” he said. “At times your equilibrium is messed around with, almost a sense of vertigo. And then the nausea. It hits you at any time, anywhere. But the fatigue, going out to practice it limited me, and that bothers me because I can’t coach the way I coach.”
At practice, before treatments sapped him, Rivera would visit different position groups and dispense whatever tips or advice he had, interacting with players and coaches. In recent weeks, Rivera would often watch from a golf cart.
It impacted his daily work habits, too.
Rivera would undergo daily proton treatments at the hospital, arriving around 7:30 a.m. They took only 10 minutes, but he sometimes needed to be there for a half-hour or longer. They, too, took a toll.
“The hard part is I get treatment, I come back and do a couple things and then take a break before practice,” Rivera said. “When I’m done with [the media], then I take another break. It’s hard to map everything out.”
Before a game vs. the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, friends and family members purchased approximately 400 cardboard cutouts to put in the stands at FedEx Field in a section dubbed Coaches Corner; the area also included a sign that read #RiveraStrong. Players and coaches wore black T-shirts that said Rivera Strong on them during pregame warm-ups.
“It’s amazing,” Washington guard Brandon Scherff said Friday. “Talking to him on the field you’d never know what he’s going through.”