Cancer-stricken Wilcox track coach has former NFL player in her corner
Brenda Brewer is upbeat and cheerful. She rattles off former Wilcox star D’Airrien Jackson’s track times like a proud high school coach should.
She adds that the coach at Tennessee Tech, where Jackson is now a freshman, has taken the middle-distance runner to the proverbial “next level.”
But this is not the reason Brewer is on the phone.
The woman who helped Jackson take fifth in the 400 at last season’s CIF state championships sent us a text message last week, noting that the lung cancer she has fought since last year no longer is in remission.
It has spread to the bone, she said.
Brewer, a former Hillsdale sprint star, is not coaching this season while on disability. She is undergoing more treatment but aims to return to work in August.
“I feel good,” she said. “I don’t feel like there is anything wrong.”
Brewer, a non-smoker, also has a point she wants to emphasize.
“I just want to make sure that everybody knows that really anybody with lungs can get cancer,” she said. “It’s just not a smoker’s disease any more. It’s every-day people.”
A story published last year at www.webmd.com supports Brewer’s statement, noting that research shows that aggressive lung cancer cases in the United States and United Kingdom are on the rise among nonsmokers.
The same story also says that experts “can’t explain why nonsmokers are a growing proportion of lung cancer diagnoses, or why women seem especially vulnerable.”
Brewer, 52, happily tells us that she is not going through the fight alone.
She stumbled upon a support group a few months ago when she woke up in the middle of the night and noticed former NFL and Stanford player Chris Draft on a TV commercial talking about his wife Keasha’s death from lung cancer in 2011.
“I had no idea that it is the No. 1 killer of all cancers, and it is underfunded,” Brewer said.
In the wee hours that night, Brewer called up Keasha’s Facebook page and sent a message.
A short time later, Chris Draft responded.
“I was kind of shocked, thinking, ‘Who is responding?’” Brewer said. “He messaged me and said I am going to call you tomorrow.”
Draft called the next day and soon Brewer found herself at Levi’s Stadium as part of Team Draft’s Survivor at Every Stadium lung cancer program.
Through Draft, Brewer has networked with others who are fighting the same disease.
“On Facebook, there is a private page for just lung cancer patients,” Brewer said. “Everybody can support each other. Everybody can tell what treatments they are getting. I am a part of Team Draft, which (Chris) and his wife came up with at their wedding.
“Before she passed away, they came up with Team Draft because most of the people with the lung cancer, if you look back now, they’re all young. We were all athletes. Didn’t smoke. His wife Keasha was a cheerleader, a professional dancer.”
Draft, wearing a gray “Team I Hate Cancer” T-Shirt, visited Brewer at Wilcox last week and spoke to the track team.
“He just wanted to see where I’ve coached the past five years,” Brewer said.
The Chris Draft Family Foundation, founded 10 years ago, focuses on education, healthy lifestyles, character development, personal responsibility, self-discipline and physical fitness.
As part of Team Draft, Brewer has her own fundraising webpage in which, she said, donations go to lung cancer research.
“All I can do is keep going and being positive and keep doing what I am doing,” Brewer said. “That seems to be working right now.”