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Linebacker Chris Draft Goes on the Offensive: Tackling Lung Cancer Stereotypes

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Published on October 20, 2015

Senior VP of Research and Education at the LUNGevity Foundation, Susan Mantel, caught up with former NFL linebacker, Chris Draft, at the WCLC in Denver, Colorado. Together they explore the reasons why people get involved in the lung cancer community and why they stay involved. Chris adds a new dimension to the conversation when he reveals that one of his wedding gifts to his wife, who was battling end-stage lung cancer on the day of their wedding, was a promise to use his NFL status as a platform to challenge the stereotypes typically associated with a lung cancer diagnosis.

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Transcript | Linebacker Chris Draft Goes on the Offensive: Tackling Lung Cancer Stereotypes

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Susan Mantel:

I'm sitting here with Chris Draft, former NFL linebacker.  Chris, I appreciate your being here to talk about your experience, both what got you involved in lung cancer and how you've seen things change over the time.  So let's talk about how you got involved in this.  Your wife, Keasha, was diagnosed in 2010. 

Chris Draft:

My wife, Keasha, was diagnosed December of 2010, and you ask, how did you get involved, and I think in most cases that's how you get involved, somebody who is close to you is diagnosed with lung cancer. 

Susan Mantel:

You lost Keasha in 2011, and you stayed involved, and you wanted to get the word out.  What made you stay involved? 

Chris Draft:

Anyone can get lung cancer.  I found out that with my wife.  I found that out by seeing it, by being around her all the time, this amazing woman, just 37 years old, it's—trying to get me to do P90X with her, trying to get me a run a 10K that's six miles, and I'm like a football player in my 13th year, and I'm like no way.  All right.  But that is what it's about.  It's about people. 

My wife, before she passed, we were able to get married.  That's why she's my wife, and it was just an amazing day.  But before that day, before our wedding, she asked me, she said, What if we don't get presents?  What if we ask our family and friends that are here to support basically a fight against lung cancer or a fight against cancer?  I said, I love it.  I love it. 

And so on our wedding day we made two commitments, and there was a commitment to each other, this, you know, amazing woman that I got a chance to be married to but also a commitment to a community, to a community that needed help and a community that when you look at the fact that I played in the NFL for 12 years and have fought throughout that time to help players if they had a passion, if they had something in their lives, to help them use it and express it through the NFL platform. 

For my wife, who was a dancer with the Charlotte Hornets Honey Bees, who took her community service serious or cared about her community, a community that was Charlotte for most of her adult life, and I think that's where it comes from.  This is not a commitment that is just lung cancer, but, you know, the continuing is because my wife came to me and said that, so we made a commitment. 

And then the continue of that right now is that we have the commitment, but before it that's how we lived.  And we had earned platforms that made it where we could really make a difference in this space, and it was important to actually use it.  

Susan Mantel:

One of it things you use it to do is to make people aware that anybody can get lung cancer, right?  

Chris Draft:

Mm?hmm. 

Susan Mantel:

Keasha did not fit most people's profile. 

Chris Draft:

Yeah. 

Susan Mantel:

My uncle was 72, former war veteran…

Chris Draft:

Yes.  

Susan Mantel:

…smoker.  He was everyone's profile of someone.  Young, healthy woman like Keasha, not.  And what else was unusual about Keisha from a lung cancer stereotype? 

Chris Draft:

I think so many things.  Again, she's a dancer, she's in shape, she's 37 years old, it's different.  But when you say anyone can get lung cancer, well, then anyone can, and so as we kind of move forward, my wife passed December 2011, say, “Well, how do we—how do we use this relationship of the NFL and the NBA and really deal with that fact?”  They shared our story before the Super Bowl in 2011, and people saw my wife, you know, so many—my guys that I played with, so many people came up and they go, ‘Oh, my goodness.  What do I say?  It's so horrible.  Oh, my goodness.”  But they're—I've never heard this.  I've never heard of somebody that was in just amazing shape that could get it. 

So what we've done is say we've got to make a case.  People have been taught for 30, 40 years of this picture that only someone that had smoked can get lung cancer.  Well, we have to challenge that and really say that even if someone did smoke that they still matter. 

Susan Mantel:

Right. 

Chris Draft:

It's not like, well, one, the ones that smoked, yeah, whatever on them, but someone that's never smoked—no, no, no.  This is real.  Lung cancer is serious.  

Susan Mantel:

When we talk about patients, right, or survivors, we were talking before we started taping about people who are at this meeting.  

Chris Draft:

Yes. 

Susan Mantel:

And especially if it's the first time at a meeting there's just kind of a learning curve on the kinds of things here.  Can you talk a little bit about your learning curve in terms of when you first got involved in the lung cancer world and how you look at things now?  

Chris Draft:

In terms of my learning, there's two distinct areas—well, actually, you could say three, being that before my wife was diagnosed what I knew, which was absolutely nothing really, but because I was educated it would be only knowing that they're smoking.  All right.  So it would be that point.  My wife is diagnosed, and I'm learning as a caregiver, but the other side is not trying to soak up too, too much because I needed to make sure that I didn't take away the hope that I had. 

Because every day I had to be able to look at my wife and say, we will do this, every day or just one day, one day at a time we're going to go work.  And I couldn't have too much [with] numbers that were maybe not so inspiring.  I needed hope.  I needed energy.  I needed positivity. 

But then when my wife passed it was—it was different, and that was as being able to lead a national organization it—couldn't put a head in the sand.  Had to know all the information.  And so gone, in the first year went to 60 cancer centers.  Hit the road and talked to the docs, not in a conference, but I wanted to see them at their research facility, at their cancer centers and talk to them directly and find out, tell me where you see the hope.  All right?  Tell me where you see the hope now.  Tell me why it's different from five years ago.  Tell me where you think it's going five years from now.  You know, what are the things that are happening that are changing? 

And because of that in these last few years it's been, you know, it's hard to say exciting in this world, because we're talking about in a relative space, but there is some excitement in the possibilities.  The best way to be able to see that hope is when you see survivors that you can't tell have lung cancer because now they are on those targeted drugs, they are on immunotherapies, on these treatments that are—are better, that are less toxic. 

And then there [are] people that are being diagnosed earlier, because of the lung cancer screening trial, and again they're cancer?free, so they're moving on with their lives.  So again it's not the numbers that we want in terms of moving up so dramatically, but we are improving, and that's a good thing.  

Susan Mantel:

Well, thanks for helping make our community so visible.  

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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