Super Bowl LI is especially special for one Atlanta Falcons fan who has developed a friendship with a former player.
When the Falcons and New England Patriots game kicks off Sunday night, Macon resident Ellis Lanham, like many fans, will be with his family watching the game from home. But a four-year battle with lung cancer and chance encounter with a former Falcon will make the game poignant.
When the Falcons played against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 11, Lanham stopped a man wearing a white wristband, worn for lung cancer awareness. That man was Chris Draft, whose wife passed away from the same disease that Lanham was diagnosed with four years ago.
Draft spent a dozen years in the NFL, including with the Falcons from 2000-2004. He’s since formed Chris Draft Foundation, which focuses on areas such as healthy living and education. One of its initiatives is bringing attention to lung cancer through Team Draft.
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“Chris has been doing excellent work,” Lanham said. “He’s probably the biggest advocate for lung cancer (awareness). Lung cancer survivors and patients, we are truly the silent majority when it comes to cancer because of the fact lung cancer is the No. 1 killer of people. We hear about breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer. Lung cancer is something they’re starting to push.”
Lanham, a non-smoker, was surprised to learn he was suffering from lung cancer when he was diagnosed in October 2012.
“When I got diagnosed that was probably the worst of day of my life,” he said.
While Lanham continues taking medication for the disease, he’s also become an advocate for others by teaming up with Draft for seminars.
And on Sunday, Lanham will be again cheering on the team he’s followed since he was six years old. He’ll be joined by 11-year-old daughter Destinee and wife Stephanie Stephens-Lanham, who serves in the Army Reserve.
“We’re all excited,” said the 53-year-old. “This Rise Up thing is going well.”