Previously, we told you about the amazing love story of former NFLer Chris Draft who lost his beloved wife Lakeasha (Keasha) Rutledge (of one month) to lung cancer. Now, Chris is opening up about her life, their love and sharing memories of Keasha. Read more inside........
Chris Draft recently spoke to ESSENCE about the love of his life, professional cheerleader Keasha Rutledge, who passed away one month after their marriage from lung cancer.
Keasha, a healthy non-smoker, had been diagnosed a year before her death and it seemingly came out of nowhere. Chris recently shared what the couple’s last year together was like and how Keasha would have wanted to be remembered.
ESSENCE.COM: Since your wife’s passing, you’ve shown such strength and shared so much of her life with the world. Why did you choose to share her story in this way?
CHRIS DRAFT: We put the pictures up [online] so people could really see the life in her, not just how she passed away. We want people to see that her faith allowed her to live before her diagnosis, and to continue to live with it, and find the joy in each day. Even when you get bad news, you have to find the joy in life, which is definitely not easy. Most of the pictures in the montage people have seen are from the past year. She was still enjoying her friends, and still enjoying her family. Yes, it was a little different with cancer being there, but at the same time, you find a way to enjoy it. That’s where you’re at, you know?
ESSENCE: You both stayed positive throughout her battle. How were you able to do that, after learning of her diagnosis?
DRAFT: It was never, "Oh, I’m just going to smile through it." Keasha was like, “I’m going to fight. We’re going to do what we have to do to go after this.” Stage 4 lung cancer is not a good diagnosis. I mean, the numbers are horrible, and to get that news without even having a sign beforehand, makes it that much tougher. She knew she had great friends, and great family, and a great support system, and she said, “Okay, so what do I have to do to fight? We’re going to fight it each and every day.” Getting the full diagnosis, and knowing exactly what we were fighting, was a very hard process. She did such a great job of really looking at it like, "Hey, I have to do this in order to have a chance to be better." She stuck with that and continued to smile, even after she went to appointment after appointment.
ESSENCE: Was your wedding day everything you dreamed it would be? You both looked so happy in your video.
DRAFT: I wanted her to just be able to really enjoy it. That was my only focus. She was able to get up. She was able to walk. She was able to dance. Dancing was just her. Her 88-year-old grandmother got up at our wedding and she started dancing, and she got Keasha back up and she started dancing too. The weather was perfect. It was 70 degrees on Thanksgiving weekend – wow. It seemed like everything just worked itself out for her. It was so beautiful. Her friends and family were all able to be there. It was a good day -- a good weekend.
ESSENCE: If you could send out a message to Keasha this Valentine’s Day, what would you want her to know?
DRAFT: [Long pause.] Keasha, I‘ll always love you. We’re gonna keep fighting. We’re gonna keep fighting! We’re gonna keep inspiring people and help to change people’s lives, I promise.
ESSENCE: How would she want you to live your life and honor her legacy?
DRAFT: She wanted to be an inspiration to other people. She really wanted to try to make sure that people saw her for who she was and to see a woman with a beautiful spirit. I have to finish making sure everything is in order as I move forward. She would want me to be happy, to smile, and to move forward and stay close with her family and friends. That’s what I’m doing.
ESSENCE: What's next for Team Draft?
DRAFT: Right now, with Team Draft our goal is to change the face of lung cancer. We want people to see that anybody can get lung cancer, and the cure for it is just as critical as breast cancer, or any cancer. We’ve got to find a way to identify it earlier. She was this strong, healthy woman, who was all of a sudden short of breath. Had she caught it during stage 3, instead of 4, it could have really increased her chances of survival. We’re going to celebrate her life and the type of person she was and we want others to grab hold of her spirit and make a difference. There’s no clear answer in terms of what can be done to identify it early enough. Keasha didn’t smoke, she was a dancer, she was fit, and she was healthy. That’s why people need to see faces like hers and continue to be inspired. We want to build an excitement about making a difference. I want to put a picture of Keasha right in front of researchers' faces, so when the doctors and scientists are doing their research, they see her right there smiling, and it can hopefully give them that little extra push. If we could push things ahead, and give someone else another week, it makes a huge difference. Team Draft was launched at our wedding. She wanted to fight. She wanted to stand up. Continuing this allows her to do that.
So touching. Read more over at ESSENCE.