Chris Draft Tackles Lung Cancer at Mount Sinai

Who decides they want to become a lung cancer advocate? "In most cases that doesn’t just happen—it’s personal," says former National Football League star Chris Draft, who has made it his mission to raise awareness about lung cancer. "Unfortunately, what was personal for me was that my wife, Keasha, was diagnosed with lung cancer. I was just finishing up playing in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, and I remember coming home to my wife challenging me to an extreme workout and to run a 10K race with her. This was an amazing, fit woman with all types of energy. She was an incredible dancer and athlete, but in December of 2010, she started to have shortness of breath between workouts. So right before Christmas, she spoke to her primary care doctor and had a chest X-ray, which revealed a mass on her left lung."

Never Smokers Like Keasha Can Get Lung Cancer

"The most important fact we discovered was that anyone can get lung cancer. She was a ‘never smoker.’ She was a healthy woman with a great relationship with her primary care doctor, but the diagnosis was at stage 4. With lung cancer, all of a sudden you become well versed in all these things you never want to know about—like a PET scan, radiation oncology, and medical oncology. My wife did a great job of fighting and finding a way to smile each day, but unfortunately, treatment doesn’t always work. My wife passed from lung cancer in December of 2011, but not before we were able to be married and to launch Team Draft, a foundation dedicated to raising lung cancer awareness, increasing research funding, and shattering the misconception that it is a ‘smoker’s disease.’"

Launching Team Draft to Change the Face of Lung Cancer

Before their wedding, Keasha asked Chris, "What do you think of asking our family and friends to support the fight against lung cancer instead of bringing presents?" His answer: "Absolutely, yes." "It shows her commitment, not just to herself but to how it would affect everyone else," Chris said. "So we continue that battle since her passing and believe that if we do not educate people about lung cancer, people may not care. Our mission is to change the face of lung cancer. And doing that allows individuals to relate to the people and not just fight lung cancer, but also fight for the people and know there is hope."

Team Draft Visits Mount Sinai to Promote Lung Cancer Awareness

"We came to Mount Sinai because there is hope and change here," Chris explained. "If you look at the five-year survival rate [16.6 percent, according to the American Lung Association], it doesn’t tell the whole story and it is not the only marker of lung cancer. Mount Sinai is leading the way with early detection and treatments. So it was natural to bring our cause to New York."

A key factor to a better outcome is self-awareness. "When my wife felt like something was wrong, she went and had it looked at. The most important thing is to know your body and listen to it and do something about it. Getting a CT scan will be your best chance to find it as early as possible."

"At Mount Sinai, it’s a team approach. Sometimes you hear that and it’s almost a cliché. Playing in the NFL it’s absolutely necessary. With lung cancer, it’s becoming increasingly clear how important it is for the thoracic surgeon, the medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, radiologist, and pulmonologist to all work together—and that your primary care physician is the quarterback of your team."

Reflections on the Past Give Way to Hope for the Future

"People ask me what I am most proud of and I say, being able to be by my wife throughout her experience. For caregivers, I want to encourage the positive, the hope, and doing the little things for your loved one." Chris also reminds caregivers to take time for themselves to stay as energetic as possible.  

"The cancer playbook in layman’s terms cannot be changed up. If you can prevent it, that is the best thing. But we know it can’t all be prevented. So the next phase is early detection; after that is treatment, and then research and survivorship. For those who can find it early, that is ideal—that is the best chance at the best quality of life and the best outcomes that both Team Draft and Mount Sinai are trying to improve."