Tuesday, August 25, 2020


These times nearly dictated that the “Big C” had become COVID-19.

But Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. and Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera remind us all that the real “Big C” has long been — and still remains — cancer.

News of the cancer diagnoses of Ripken and Rivera last week brought back a familiar sense of dread. No one is talking about a cancer vaccine, even though more than 600,000 people will die in the United States this year from some form of the disease.

Medical experts and scientists have been working long and hard to find a cure. They have been working on a cure for so long that the most feared disease has simply become a fact of life for many.

Some cancer treatments have progressed so far as to give victims a sense of hope. Certainly that is how Ripken felt when he told reporters he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in February and underwent successful surgery in March.

“It scared me. It scared me a lot and it stops you in your tracks,” Ripken, 60, told WMAR. “The good news is I caught it early. It was all contained in the prostate … they took the prostate out. I’m cancer free.”

The thought of living with the after-effects of COVID-19 for years to come, as we all do with cancer, is frightening — after all, we can catch this new disease simply by breathing or touching.

But we have learned to live with the fear of cancer, even though, in many cases, we don’t know how we contract the disease. Is it the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink? Is it a curse unknowingly handed down by our mothers and fathers?

How many commercials are shown on television of lawyers seeking clients who have contracted cancer from baby powder, or from heartburn medication, or from the weed spray you used on your lawn?

When Rivera felt a bump on his neck, he didn’t think it would turn into squamous cell carcinoma of a lymph node, a form of cancer that, despite an early diagnosis and a hopeful prognosis after an upcoming lengthy radiation treatment, would put his life at risk.

“I was really disappointed, surprised, concerned, scared at times,” Rivera told Washington Football Team senior vice president of media Julie Donaldson.

Vince Lombardi probably felt the same way 50 years ago. It is scary in 2020. It was scary in 1970, when the former Washington football coach lay in a hospital room at Georgetown University Hospital with his body withering from colon cancer.

Rivera is not Lombardi, obviously. But both could be classified as saviors of sorts, even if Rivera hasn’t even coached a game in Washington. The damaged fan base here has pinned its hopes for the salvation of their football team on Rivera, the former Carolina Panthers coach who won the NFC championship in 2015.

Lombardi, the two-time Super Bowl and five-time NFL champion head coach with the Green Bay Packers, had taken the job to coach in Washington in 1969. After 15 losing seasons, he turned the franchise around in one season with an 8-6-2 record.

But by the time he got his diagnosis of cancer one year later, it was too late, and the disease had spread through his body. He would be gone by Sept. 3.

“Lombardi would get the most out of every athlete he had,” Charley Taylor told me. “He knew their limits. He knew how far to push them. He had a great feel for his talent and his people. He taught us how to win.”

Even in his brief time in Washington, you hear players say similar things about Rivera, as his players did in Carolina.

Rivera’s prognosis is much better than Lombardi’s was. The cancer was reportedly discovered in the early stages, and he is hoping to continue to coach when he can during his treatments. He received a message of hope from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who suffered from the same cancer five years ago.

“Just spoke to @WashingtonNFL Head Coach Ron Rivera, who was recently diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of a lymph node,” Hogan tweeted last week. “Having been through lymphoma and squamous cell myself, I shared some pregame advice & wished him a speedy recovery. We’re pulling for you, @RiverboatRonHC!.”

To think otherwise, even as we are being beaten down by COVID-19, goes against the strength we have built up over the years living with the fear of the real “Big C.”

Hear Thom Loverro Tuesdays and Thursdays on The Kevin Sheehan Podcast and Wednesday afternoons on Chad Dukes Vs. The World on 106.7 The Fan.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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