ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera will undergo his last round of cancer treatments Monday and said doctors have been pleased with his progress.
"I've been told it's headed in the right direction," Rivera said.
Rivera, who announced in August that he had squamous cell cancer, will complete the seven weeks of treatments Monday. Rivera will undergo a chemotherapy session Monday and also have a proton treatment. He'll still have several weeks of follow-ups and scans, but the toughest part will be over. From the beginning, Rivera said doctors were confident they had caught it in time and were optimistic about his prognosis.
With Washington having a bye next week, it allows Rivera to endure a tough final stretch without needing to coach practice let alone a game.
"The fatigue, I told my wife it's like having a 300-pound gorilla on your back," Rivera said.
The last time he had chemo was three weeks ago, leading into a Week 4 game vs. Baltimore. Rivera missed one practice and had to leave a second one early due to fatigue. He looked weakened at times during the game, needing to sit on the bench during breaks and having a team employee steady him as he walked to the locker room at halftime. He'd take IVs at halftime of some games and said he'd make sure to stay hydrated with sports drinks or water.
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.
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 a local hospital, arriving around 7:30 a.m. They took only 10 minutes, but he might need 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."
From the beginning, players and coaches said it meant a lot to them to watch how Rivera handled the situation.
"Seeing him go through what he's going through and still coming out here to work every day is inspiring," Washington defensive backs coach Chris Harris said. "I told [the players], you don't have anything to complain about. You think you got it bad? You don't. We've got a head coach who's battling cancer and he's dedicated enough to where he does that and it zaps the living life out of him and he's out here with you guys every day as much as he can."
Before the Ravens' game, 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. "Talking to him on the field you'd never know what he's going through."