Chris Draft certainly delivered -- and received -- his fair share of bone-rattling hits as a linebacker in the NFL.

Nothing, however, could prepare him for the blow he would receive in December 2010 when his then-fiancee, Keasha Rutledge, was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Draft, now 41 and retired, had to watch from the sidelines as Rutledge battled the disease. They were married on Thanksgiving Day 2011, a month before the cancer claimed her life.

"It was terrible for her," Draft said, noting Rutledge stayed positive through her diagnosis and treatment.

"It was her ability to refocus each day, to enjoy each day. It was not easy, but she found a way to do it."

Refusing to be silenced by the disease, Draft has become one of the biggest advocates for lung-cancer research and treatment.

Draft, who played for seven teams during his NFL career that lasted from 1998 to 2010, will be the keynote speaker at the third annual Breath of Hope Celebration, set from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at L Brands headquarters, 3 Limited Parkway in New Albany.

It is a major fundraiser for lung-cancer research for the Thoracic Oncology Center at the James Cancer Hospital.

The evening will offer food, cocktails, music and a raffle.

Tickets cost $150 each and can be purchased at breathofhopeohio.com.

"One thing I took from my wife's (ordeal), we used her experience as a guide," Draft said. "We want to make sure survivors are surrounded by people with knowledge."

Dr. David Carbone, professor and director of the Thoracic Oncology Center, said recent advances in pharmaceutical treatments are giving both physicians and patients increased optimism.

"It's more than hope," Carbone said. "We're seeing really dramatic and durable responses. Not everyone benefits but the ones who benefit seem to have a very durable benefit."

Newer drugs provide a longer life expectancy, have a lower toxicity than standard chemotherapy and are more effective in treating brain metastasis, Carbone said.

One of the problems with lung cancer is detection. A grapefruit-sized tumor can be growing in a lung but there might not be any symptoms, Carbone said.

"Usually, symptoms are related to metastasis, where the cancer has advanced to the other parts of the body," Carbone said.

Common symptoms include shortness of breath, blood in the sputum, cough, chest pains and weight loss, he said.

Anyone of any age, regardless of diet, exercise habits or history of smoking, can get lung cancer, Carbone said. More people die from lung cancer than any other form of the disease, he said.

"That's the best way to treat cancer is to get it as early as possible," Carbone said.

Still, smoking is considered a major cause of lung cancer. Of the 150,000 to 220,000 people diagnosed with lung cancer each year, 15 percent never smoked, Carbone said.

Marijuana and electronic cigarettes are not considered safe alternatives to cigarettes, he said.

"The other adverse effect of e-cigarettes is (smokers) getting hooked when they're young," Carbone said. "Habits that develop in youth are hard to overcome."

Those 55 and older who have a smoking history can have a computed tomography scan, which takes less than a minute to complete. It has the ability to detect tumors a quarter-inch in size undetectable by any other means, Carbone said. Most insurance plans pay for the scan, he said.

"That's the best way to treat cancer: Get it as early as possible," Carbone said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary