People run in athletic gear with lungs showing cancer in the background

Chris Draft: Passion for Keasha, Football and Advocacy

Chris Draft grew up in Anaheim, California. He played football and baseball for Stanford University and graduated in 1998 with a degree in economics. He then played football professionally for 12 years, on seven teams, including Chicago Bears (1998), San Francisco 49ers (1999), Atlanta Falcons (2000–2004), Carolina Panthers (2005–2006), St. Louis Rams (2007–2008), Buffalo Bills (2009), and Washington Redskins (2010).

In 2006, Chris met Keasha Rutledge, an engineer, who was a former Charlotte Hornets Honeybee dancer and member of Clemson University’s Rally Cat dance squad.

Always a clean bill of health

“Keasha was in amazing shape,” says Chris. “She worked out consistently, so she was always in tiptop shape.”

In 2010, the same year Chris retired from professional football, Keasha started training for the Charleston, SC, Cooper River Bridge 10K. During her training, she noticed she had a little shortness of breath.

“Keasha’s family always valued health,” says Chris. “If they felt that something wasn’t right, they instilled in her, go get it checked out. So, when she had a little shortness of breath, she didn’t wait. She immediately set up an appointment with her primary care doctor.”

Keasha’s shocking diagnosis

Keasha’s primary care provider ordered a round of antibiotics and a chest X-ray. The X-ray showed a mass in her left lung.

“He saw the scan and let her know in the best way possible,” says Chris. “And during the next few weeks, he essentially became her quarterback.”

Her doctor arranged for Keasha to get a biopsy, which confirmed that Keasha had lung cancer.

“On December 27, 2010, we got the worst news of our life,” said Chris. “And we found out the most important fact about lung cancer, that anyone can get it. Even a 37-year-old woman, in amazing shape, that has never smoked in her life.”

Putting faith in Keasha's doctors

Keasha’s relationship with her primary care provider was critically important.

“Keasha’s primary care doctor immediately ordered a PET scan,” says Chris, “and confirmed Keasha’s first oncology appointment at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute. It’s important to have a great relationship with your primary care doctor. Keasha’s was diagnosed at Christmas time. So, it was so important that her primary care doctor took charge and said, ‘Let’s get the biopsy. Let’s get the PET scan. Let’s make sure when you walk into that cancer center that you’ve got these things right in your hands so we can get things going as soon as possible.’”

From healthy to stage IV lung cancer

Just after New Year’s 2011, Chris and Keasha had their first appointment at Emory University.

“We found out another important fact about lung cancer,” says Chris. “During our first appointment at Emory, that too often lung cancer is diagnosed late-stage when you finally find it.”

Keasha was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. The oncologist scheduled Keasha to get an MRI to assess whether the cancer had spread to her brain.

“Very quickly,” says Chris, “we went from a woman who was in amazing shape and training to run a 10K, to someone who has a mass, to at least Stage I -- to Stage IV -- and not just Stage IV -- but Stage IV with brain mets.”

Our treatment plan: chemotherapy

Keasha had the best care available. Her oncologist at Emory had trained under renowned lung cancer expert Dr. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD.

“After the scans, biomarker testing was the top priority,” says Chris. “So, Keasha’s tissue was sent to a pathologist right away to get tested. The doctor did a great job explaining the process and new innovations that were occurring in lung cancer. ‘We’re going to send the tissue out because, like now, the biggest driver of her therapy would be determined by her biomarker testing.’ Unfortunately, she was negative for both EGFR and ALK+.”

Eventually, tests revealed that Keasha had a HER2 biomarker. With no targetable biomarker, Keasha underwent chemotherapy.

Read Part II of Chris Draft: Passion for Keasha, Football and Advocacy.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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