‘It’s who I am’ — Ron Rivera on coaching Washington Football Team during cancer fight

Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera watches teams warm up before the game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, in late August. Since then, he’s been powering through five treatments per week and attending games from the sidelines while staying hydrated with bags of intravenous fluid.

“When I first was diagnosed, I was angry … it’s always been a sort of ‘why me’ but as people have reached out and sent their well wishes, it’s pushed me forward,” Rivera told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday. “When you go through something like this, you need a support system.”

Despite having just under a month of chemotherapy left, Rivera has stood defiant against his disease through his commitment to continue as the team’s head coach. On Monday morning, he told GMA that doctors had advised him to preserve his routine as much as possible, as long as he didn’t push his body beyond its limits.

“It’s who I am,” Rivera said, adding he wants to set an example of how to go about life after a cancer diagnosis.

To support the coach during Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, Rivera’s family lined FedEx field with 450 cardboard cutouts of his family and friends — including Rivera’s late brother Mickey, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2015.

“That really hit me. Mickey was such a fighter,” Rivera said. “Just to see him again, that hit home; it was awesome.”

Rivera said he was also surprised to see his own mother —  or at least a cardboard figure — at Sunday’s game for the first time ever. Rivera’s mother, the coach explained, has refused to attend games for years, because she disapproves of people badmouthing her son.

Looking forward, Rivera urged the region’s residents to “vote their conscience” and prioritize health care accessibility this November. He has three weeks of treatment remaining, including one full chemotherapy cycle.

“I have it; it doesn’t have me,” Rivera said, channeling sports broadcaster Stuart Scott during his fight with cancer. “It’s not how far I have to go, but how far I’ve gone.”

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