At the bye week, Ron Rivera has a lot to be happy about. And it’s not just because his team smacked the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and is now just a half-game out of first in the NFC East.
Rather, the Washington coach celebrated his final cancer treatment Monday, completing a seven-week plan that involved proton therapy and chemotherapy sessions.
In a video posted to social media, Rivera was greeted to cheers from the staff at the Inova Schar Cancer Institute as he walked down a hallway following his final treatment. Wearing black “Rivera Strong” t-shirts, nurses showered him with gold confetti.
In a tradition for the hospital’s cancer patients, Rivera walked to the end of the hall and rang the large silver bell to celebrate the end of his treatment.
Later in the day, Rivera shared two photos of him with the caption: “How it started. How it’s going!” The first picture was of the coach slumped in a hospital chair with his eyes closed. The next features Rivera, with a piece of gold confetti on his head, smiling through his face mask and holding the rope to the bell.
“His strength is unmatched,” offensive coordinator Scott Turner said Monday. “I’m happy for him that that stuff is over. … We’re here for him and really happy for him that he’s pushed through that. I think everybody, whether it’s our support staff or our coaching staff or our players, we’re all behind Coach and we feel for him going through this tough time.”
“I think we all admire his toughness,” defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said.
Rivera did not address reporters Monday, having Turner and Del Rio speak in his place. But the 58-year-old said last week that he was looking forward to reaching Monday’s milestone. Rivera told reporters Friday that his fight against cancer was “headed in the right direction” and that he has received positive news from his doctors. He’ll continue to have follow-up appointments in the weeks to come.
Over the past few months, Rivera’s battle with cancer has been evident at times. Since revealing his diagnosis in August, he appears to have lost weight and his fatigue is noticeable. The coach has had to adjust his coaching schedule, leaving the facility at 5 p.m. — hours earlier than normal — to make sure he gets the rest he needs. He also has concentrated on staying hydrated, receiving IVs at halftimes of games and drinking plenty of Gatorade on the sideline.
But Rivera hasn’t missed a game in that span. He has sat out just a few practices and has largely been able to maintain the linchpin role he’s played since joining the franchise. He’s made bold decisions, like benching Dwayne Haskins and starting Kyle Allen.
Washington sits at 2-5 after snapping a five-game losing streak Sunday with a dominant 25-3 win over the Cowboys. The team has looked particularly improved the last two weeks as it has started to play disciplined football. Players and coaches have said the improvements are the result of their work in practice, where they are building good habits that are starting to pay off.
After Sunday’s win, Allen said Washington is forming its identity around Rivera’s battle with cancer.
“He’s getting chemo, and then he’s showing up the next day at work,” Allen said. “He’s setting the example for us and it’s right in front of our eyes.”
It’s too soon to say whether Washington’s win on Sunday is a turning point for the team.
When they return from the bye, they’ll be matched up again against the New York Giants — a 1-6 team that beat Washington in Week 6. The Giants, however, are part of a four-game stretch in which Washington faces the Detroit Lions, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cowboys — four teams with a combined 7-19-1 record.
Turner, though, agreed with Allen that Washington has rallied around its coach.
“If coach can come to work and push through what he’s dealing with, none of us have any excuses,” Turner said.
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