While teams will spend the next four weeks battling for their chance at a Super Bowl trophy, a group of lung cancer survivors have already entered the race to raise funds and awareness for their chance to be at the Big Game.
On Jan. 1, the Chris Draft Family Foundation will announce the winner of Team Draft’s fourth annual Lung Cancer Survivors Super Bowl Challenge, in which competitors raise funds for lung cancer organizations and treatment centers across North America. The top four fundraisers will be awarded trips to Super Bowl LII (Feb. 4), the 2018 NFL Pro Bowl (Jan. 28), the 2018 Taste of the NFL (Feb. 3) and the 2018 College Football National Championship (Jan. 8).
Team Draft was founded by former NFL linebacker Chris Draft and his late wife Keasha, who died of lung cancer in 2011 at the age of 38. Its Campaign to Change the Face of Lung Cancer is committed to shattering the misconception that lung cancer is a “smoker’s disease.”
“Anyone can get it,” said Draft. “My wife was 37 years old, in perfect shape.”
That’s the key message that Draft wants to drive home – an awareness that everyone is at risk. According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute, lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States, after breast cancer, and is responsible for 25.9 percent of all cancer deaths in the country. These statistics demonstrate why it is so important to support research to eradicate the disease.
Why use the NFL as a venue for raising awareness about lung cancer? Draft says the NFL offers a family dynamic that cannot be seen anywhere else.
“The NFL is where more races and socio-economic groups come together more than anywhere else … you just can't ask for a better place to show that than at a ballgame where you get so many eyes, and so many people have a chance to connect,” he said. “When you support that team, it becomes a family. So now when somebody has lung cancer instead of it just being somebody over there that's 45 minutes away, they're an Eagles fan, or a Giants fan, or a Dallas fan, or a Falcons fan or Panthers fan – they now can relate to each other more because their team is a family.”
The media coverage surrounding the Super Bowl provides a platform to raise critical public awareness about lung cancer on an international level. With the game as a backdrop, Team Draft uses each survivor’s story to weave a broader narrative about the state of lung cancer.
“Last year our winner was Jeremy Smallwood from Lahey Clinic,” said Draft. “We had a press conference on the Tuesday before the Super Bowl, so when Tom Brady was having this big press conference, Jeremy Smallwood was having a big press conference.”
Team Draft is dedicated to supporting survivors like Smallwood, making sure that they are uplifted with positivity, and empowered with the knowledge that they need to be able to fight lung cancer on a daily basis.
“In football, when something seems difficult, they say, well, I think it's going to be hard, but we've got to figure a way to get through it. We've got to stay behind our team and that's what we need in lung cancer too,” said Draft. “We have to believe that even though we're not where we want to be, the only way we're going to be able to change is if we stay positive and we stay confident and we and we are willing to fight. When you look at a ball team, as long as they're willing to fight and you see them progressing and getting better, the fans are okay. I guess that's very similar.”
Last year, participants who raised more than $1,000 during the Super Bowl Challenge were able to commit 50 percent of the funds they raised to a lung cancer organization or cancer center of their choice. This year, as an additional incentive, if participants raise over $5,000, their designated beneficiary will receive 80 percent of the funds raised, with the remaining 20 percent going to support Team Draft’s mission to change the face of lung cancer.
“We want people to fight for their city, fight for their cancer center. Not just support research randomly but fight for your place, fight for you to have the best treatment because that's going to make sure that you don't have to drive,” Draft said. “Say let's make sure that we've got the best place let's make sure we're supporting it so we can get as many clinical trials so that we can have the best treatment right here at home. And so that's what the Super Bowl challenge is really about, is our survivors standing up standing up for their cancer centers or standing up for an organization and then doing that because they're connected.”
To learn more about Team Draft, share your story, or make a donation, please visit www.teamdraft.org