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‘Prayers have been answered’: Washington Coach Ron Rivera is told he is cancer free

Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera underwent seven weeks of cancer treatment during the 2020 season. (Jonathan Newton /The Washington Post)

Nearly three weeks after the Washington Football Team’s season ended, Coach Ron Rivera earned his biggest personal win with Thursday’s revelation that he is cancer free.

Rivera had said he would undergo a PET scan — his “big scan,” as he called it — at the end of this month to determine whether the proton therapy and chemotherapy he received in-season were effective in treating squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer in his neck.

Rivera learned Thursday the treatments had eliminated the cancer, news he confirmed shortly after his family announced on Twitter that he is “officially cancer free.” Thursday night, Rivera himself tweeted the news.

“Thank you everyone for your prayers, letters, texts & notes of encouragement & support," Rivera wrote. "It truly made a difference in my treatment & recovery!”

“Prayers have been answered,” Ron Rivera’s wife, Stephanie, tweeted. “Thx to all the Drs & nurses who ‘Coached up’ [Ron] and me and gave us the winning game plan to defeat cancer. The PET scan said it all, cancer you lost this fight!”

Rivera announced in August that he received a cancer diagnosis after he discovered a lump on his neck while shaving. At the start of the regular season in September, he began a seven-week regimen that included 35 proton radiation treatments and three cycles of chemotherapy.

Though he continued to coach throughout his treatment, he was visibly weakened — and slimmer — and forced to revise his schedule to include morning trips to the hospital, naps between meetings and days off when he was too physically drained to lead the team. He missed three practices, leaving defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to fill in for him, but he did not miss any games.

“People say, ‘Well, what would’ve happened if you took a year off?’ I don’t know, I really don’t,” Rivera said earlier this month. “It scares me to think about what could’ve happened. I’m very fortunate. There’s a reason why I’m here. There’s a reason why I went through what I went through. I think because of it, I’m very fortunate. I’m better for it.”

His personal battle formed a backdrop to the season and inspiration for his team amid the ups and downs en route to a 7-9 record. Washington started 1-4 and cycled through four starting quarterbacks before winning the NFC East title.

“It’s one thing to have something in your life going on,” Del Rio said earlier this month. “But to have a battle with cancer and the treatment that he went through and to see him and the toughness and the determination and the grit, I think the team kind of understands a little bit better what it looks like to man up and to handle things and to keep fighting.”

On Oct. 26, Rivera rang the bell at Inova Schar Cancer Institute in Fairfax, Va. to commemorate his final treatment. He came away from his experience hoping for a clean bill of health but also hoping for change. He said he wanted to become an advocate for affordable health care and improved coverage after learning the high cost of treatment and potential pitfalls in trying to obtain health insurance, which he received through the team.

“From my own experience and from what I’ve seen, I just think that people need to have some sort of options in this country,” Rivera told The Washington Post in November. “I mean, we’re the richest country in the world. How could we not?”

At the time, Rivera said he didn’t have a formal plan for his advocacy. But on Thursday, President Biden announced steps to expand access to health care, including an executive order to reopen the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace for three months.

What to read about the Washington Commanders

Exclusive: An employee of Washington’s NFL team accused Commanders owner Daniel Snyder of asking for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes, according to legal correspondence obtained by The Post. A team investigation concluded the woman was lying in an attempt to extort Snyder.

Capitol Hill: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced that the committee intends to issue a subpoena to compel the testimony of Snyder.

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Penalized: The NFL fined Commanders head coach Ron Rivera $100,000 and docked the team two OTA practices in 2023 for excessive hitting during their offseason program this year, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.