Former NFL Player Fights Lung Cancer To Honor Late Wife

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This Black History Month, we honor the GAME CHANGERS: Everyday heroes whose actions make life better for the people around them. SEE ALL OUR GAME CHANGERS HERE

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Chris Draft

Chris Draft

Age: 35

Place of Residence: Atlanta

Why he is a local hero: The former NFL linebacker started a foundation to help families and communities live a healthier lifestyle. Now, he is bringing attention to lung cancer.

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Former NFL player Draft has been in the news a lot recently because of the tragic death of his wife. Lakeasha Monique Rutledge Draft died from lung cancer on Dec. 27, just a month after the couple were married. Draft says his wife was not a smoker. She found out about the cancer when it was in stage 4 and had no symptoms beforehand.

True to his spirit as founder of the Chris Draft Family Foundation, which seeks to uplift communities, Draft is now turning his attention to detecting lung cancer earlier. He and his late wife founded Team Draft, which he launched at the Super Bowl.

“Right now, with Team Draft our goal is to change the face of lung cancer. We want people to see that anybody can get lung cancer, and the cure for it is just as critical as breast cancer or any cancer. We’ve got to find a way to identify it earlier. She [his wife] was this strong, healthy woman, who was all of a sudden short of breath,” Draft says. “Had she caught it during stage 3, instead of 4, it could have really increased her chances of survival. We’re going to celebrate her life and the type of person she was and we want others to grab hold of her spirit and make a difference. There’s no clear answer in terms of what can be done to identify it early enough. Keasha didn’t smoke; she was a dancer, she was fit, and she was healthy. That’s why people need to see faces like hers and continue to be inspired. We want to build an excitement about making a difference.”

“I want to put a picture of Keasha right in front of researchers’ faces, so when the doctors and scientists are doing their research, they see her right there smiling, and it can hopefully give them that little extra push. If we could push things ahead, and give someone else another week, it makes a huge difference. Team Draft was launched at our wedding. She wanted to fight. She wanted to stand up. Continuing this allows her to do that,” Draft says.

Given Draft’s history, no one should be surprised. The retired 13-year NFL veteran linebacker founded his foundation in 2006 to help strengthen communities and uplift families by stressing character development, fitness, and education.

In addition to being a published author, Draft has tackled issues as diverse as asthma, reading, and youth sport safety. He also joined First Lady Michelle Obama‘s Let’s Read. Let’s Move initiative and served as a speaker at the NFL’s Rookie Symposium.

But tackling the lung cancer issue is something that Draft felt he had to do.

Chris Draft

“We are committed to changing the face of lung cancer by shattering stereotypes,” says Draft. “I, along with Team Draft, am carrying on our mission. Keasha wanted to inspire people and embrace each day by remembering to dance, smile, and live.”

Lung cancer is the top-cancer killer in the country and African Americans are more likely to develop and die of the disease than whites despite lower smoking rates. We are also more likely to be diagnosed later and to die in the hospital after surgery. African Americans are also more likely to wait longer after diagnosis to receive treatment or to refuse treatment.

Approximately 25 percent of lung cancer cases had no symptoms in advance. Studies also show that women may be more susceptible to getting lung cancer from second-hand smoke than men. Draft’s “Changing the Face of Lung Cancer” campaign seeks to smash misconceptions about the disease as well as focus more research on early detection and finding a cure.

“She wanted to be an inspiration to other people. She really wanted to try to make sure that people saw her for who she was and to see a woman with a beautiful spirit,” Draft says. “I have to finish making sure everything is in order as I move forward. She would want me to be happy, to smile, and to move forward and stay close with her family and friends. That’s what I’m doing.”

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