FOX 5 ATLANTA – It was the ultimate football fans’ weekend: Angie and Jake Downs of Seattle joined former NFL and Atlanta Falcons player Chris Draft at Super Bowl LVI in Miami.
The Downs was coming off a cold, so her doctor recommended keeping an eye on her cough, and put in an order for a chest x-ray if it didn’t clear up.
Three months later, still coughing, Downs went in for that x-ray at the hospital where she worked as a nurse anesthetist.
A few minutes later, she got a call from the hospital’s radiology department, asking her to schedule an “emergency” chest CT scan.
A few days after the CT scan, a lung biopsy confirmed the radiologist’s suspicions.was a high point in a journey this 43-year old Army combat veteran never imagined she would be facing when she developed a nagging cough in the fall of 2018.
“Other than that, I felt fine,” Downs remembers. “I was still running. I was still working fulltime. No other symptoms.”
Downs was diagnosed at 42 with advanced lung cancer.
“I was stage 3 when I was diagnosed in October of 2018, but it advanced to stage 4 by January (2019)” she says.
“The number one thing most people ask you, or say to you, is, ‘I didn’t know you smoked!”
— Angie Downs, diagnosed with advanced lung cancer at 42
“The number one thing most people ask you, or say to you, is, ‘I didn’t know you smoked,'” she says.
That’s the thing: Downs doesn’t smoke.
“I’ve never smoked,” she says.
Neither had Keasha Draft, the wife of former NFL player and Atlanta Falcon Chris Draft.
An longtime athlete and runner, she started experiencing shortness of breath. Doctors found a large tumor in her left lung.
“37-years-old, in amazing shape, never smoke,” Chris Draft says. “Just, all of this, (she was) the epitome of health. For her to be diagnosed, clearly says anyone can get it.”
Keasha Draft lived just 11 months after her diagnosis.
“She was the epitome of health. For her to be diagnosed, clearly says anyone can get it.”
— Chris Draft, on his wife Keasha Draft’s lung cancer diagnosis
Just before their wedding in November of 2011, and a month before she passed away, Keasha came to her husband with a question.
“She said, ‘What if we don’t have presents? What if we ask our family and friends to support our foundation, and all that money to be used in the fight against lung cancer?'” Draft remembers. “It was so important because it’s when she transitioned from just being a survivor to being an advocate.”
That is is how “Team Draft” was formed.
“I went to 60 cancer centers in the first year after Keasha passed away,” Draft says.
He learned Keasha Draft was not an outlier.
Up to 20 percent of lung cancer patients are “never-smokers,” and two-thirds of that subgroup are women, according to the American Cancer Society’s website cancer.org.
But, Chris Draft says, too often, cancer organizations focus only on prevention, and encouraging tobacco smokers to quit, overlooking thousands of patients who don’t smoke.
So, he travels the country recruiting lung cancer survivors like Angie Downs to share their stories and raise “a sense of urgency” about the need for better treatment options.
Angie Downs says she has benefitted from the kind of research Draft is pushing.
“Today I lead a pretty normal life,” Downs says. “I’m on targeted therapy.”
If she had been diagnosed five or ten years ago, that therapy would not have been available.
“I take a pill every single day,” DoShe and Jake are big football fans, so the Team Draft Lung Cancer Survivor Super Bowl Challenge seemed like a good fit.
She has raised just over $50,000.
Downs is donating 90 percent of money to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for lung cancer research.
wns says. “It targets the cancer and kind of maintains it. It doesn’t last forever, and that’s the reason we need more research.”
And, Angie and Jake Downs are not facing lung cancer alone; they have 9-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son.
“The good part is, for the most part, they’ve never seen me sick,” she says. “I think it’s hard for most people to believe I have stage 4 lung cancer, because I’ve been able to live my life pretty normally.”
Downs had been looking for a way to become a lung cancer advocate, so she did some research and found Team Draft.
Jake and Angie Downs of Seattle went to LIV Super Bowl in Miami.
The rest will help Team Draft promote awareness and push for more research funding for lung cancer.
Chris Draft hopes to change the face of lung cancer, the top cancer killer in the United States.
“If research matters, we have to say it,” Chris Draft says. “If research matters, we have to stand up and shout it out from the mountaintops.”
But, Draft says, the cancer survivors cannot do it alone.
“Our experts have to back that up,” Draft says. “So, we need Emory to say it. We need Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to say it. We need all out NCI-designated cancer centers, and all our organizations to make it clear and absolute that prevention is not enough, and researcher matters.”