HeadStrong: Ron Rivera, wife Stephanie, open up about the head coach's battle with cancer

Ethan Cadeaux
·3 min read

Ron Rivera, wife Stephanie, open up about battle with cancer originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Ron Rivera was in an excellent place a few weeks before his first game as the head coach of the Washington Football Team. He had just returned from vacation, training camp was underway, and his family life was great.

Then, on August 20, 2020, Rivera's life changed significantly. The 58-year-old announced he had been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer.

"When I first got diagnosed, I was mad," Rivera said. "It really pissed me off."

The head coach opened up about his battle with cancer with NBC Sports as part of the HeadStrong initiative, a video series focused on mental health and men's health issues.

Despite the cancer diagnosis, Rivera continued to coach Washington, all while undergoing several weeks of radiation treatment and chemotherapy.

Throughout those two months undergoing treatment, Rivera used his drive and passion for coaching to fuel him through one of the toughest parts of his life.

"There are some things that drive you. The things that I love doing more than anything else is coaching," Rivera said. "I asked, 'Can I coach?' [They responded] 'Oh yeah, I think it's important that you work.' Going to work is important. It creates that mental drive. So that was what was driving me."

Besides his desire to continue coaching, Rivera relied on his wife, Stephanie, and his family throughout the entire process.

"Ron went nine years in the NFL and never had a surgery," Stephanie said. "So I was really worried about how he would be as a patient. But they said it was going to be tough. There were going to be low moments with the radiation therapy and the chemo."

As the coach's lowest points, it was his wife and family that pushed him to continue fighting.

Additionally, Rivera was inspired by his late brother Mickey's fight with cancer. 

"Remembering what he went through and how courageous he was. Mickey would never complain," Rivera said. "That was the thing that was amazing. I thought about that a lot, that I am very fortunate."

Sadly, Mickey would pass away from pancreatic cancer in 2015.

Nearly two months after the announcement, the head coach completed his treatment, getting to ring the bell on his way out signifying the end of treatments. Rivera received a standing ovation from many medical professionals, with many of them wearing "Rivera Strong" t-shirts.

Despite everything Rivera and his family went through in 2020, the head coach has his team one win away from an improbably division title in the final week of the regular season.

However, Rivera and his team would not be where they are today without the tremendous support the head coach received during his two months of cancer treatment.

"The health scare was tough, but he had the right attitude and we had the right support staff around him," Stephanie said.

Her husband would agree.

"The support staff I had was phenomenal," Rivera said.

Download and subscribe to the Washington Football Talk Podcast