With the soccer season underway, New England Revolution defender Kevin Alston spends most of his time immersed in hard-core training exercises and focused on his next game. Yet, try as he might, he never forgets the day he was told he had chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe what just happened,” he said. “You hear that and don’t know what to expect. I didn’t know much about leukemia but I knew it was cancer.”
More than a year later, he’s reached a much better place. Alston responded well to an oral therapy to control the cancer and returned to the soccer field within months – and Major League Soccer honored him as 2013 Comeback Player of the Year. While not technically in remission, he is stable and responding well to a daily pill that manages his disease.
He’s well aware of how things might have been different if he had been diagnosed 15 years earlier, before the therapy that saved his life had been developed. He also knows it’s not over yet.
When he thinks about the future, the thought of cancer is always there. The medication he takes, dasatinib, is relatively new so he doesn’t know what will happen down the road. It’s a little scary but for now, he said, “I’m thankful for the way things turned out.”
“Life is very unpredictable but you have to roll with the punches and stay positive,” he said.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) funded the early research that led to the development of these oral therapies to control CML.
His family, friends and Revolution teammates have rallied around him and he’s now making an effort to give back and help others. Shortly after his diagnosis, he was signing Kevin Alston bobbleheads, featuring his signature hair and goatee, given out at Gillette Stadium in conjunction with Leukemia Awareness Night. The event included informational tables from LLS and a swabbing station for Be The Match Registry, a national marrow donor program. This August, he made his debut in an improvisational comedy performance to raise funds for LLS.
To further support research for blood cancers, he will be joining a corporate team with fans and Revolution staff on October 9 at his first Light The Night Walk on the historic Boston Common. The Revolution Charitable Foundation will match the first $2,500 in donations received by the team’s walkers.
For Alston, it was a logical and easy transition from survivor to supporter.
“It came along with the territory,” he said. “It’s not like anyone asks to be diagnosed with cancer but your instant reaction is that you’re going to get through this and be able to give back to help others.”