In April, New England Revolution defender Kevin Alston was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a rare but treatable form of leukemia.
Alston, 25, has played 121 career games since the Revolution drafted him 10th overall in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft out of Indiana University. Alston also started the 2010 MLS All-Star Game and helped the Revolution to the playoffs this season. But—despite his steady play—Alston has had a big impact off the soccer field by sharing his story in an effort to raise awareness about cancer.
This month, as men around the world are growing mustaches to raise funds for men’s cancer research, we chatted with Alston about his diagnosis, treatment, and which one of his Movember teammates will grow the strongest ‘stache.
We spoke with Alston after he and several members of Gillette’s Movember team—who hope to raise money as a group, which you and your Mo’ Bros can too—shaved their faces clean in accordance with Movember protocol.
Men’s Fitness: How’d you kick off Movember this year?
Kevin Alston: Danny Amendola, Diego Fagundez, Chris Tierney, Matthew Slater, Nate Solder, and I all had a group shave, a fresh shave, at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. We kind of geared up to start to grow these mustaches.
MF: Are you hoping to grow a handlebar?
KA: That’s the goal, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve never grown a specific mustache. I’ve kind of grown everything all together, but not just a mustache, so we will see how it looks.
MF: Do you tend to grow a heavy stubble?
KA: It’s kind of in-between. The hair grows pretty fast but doesn’t grow in full, so it’s an awkward kind of looking beard.
MF: Have you participated in Movember in the past?
KA: No I haven’t, this is my first time. I’m excited about it. I am definitely excited to be a part of it now and be apart of team Gillette its got a lot of great members on it. I’ve always observed it in the past and donated, but this is my first time doing it firsthand so I’m excited they asked me.
MF: How did your diagnosis came about?
KA: On Apr. 1, 2013 was when I really found out. There were a lot of things leading up to that, like signs and symptoms such as excessive bruising. I was tired all the time, night sweats, aches and pains in my shoulders, hips, stuff like that. I felt like something wasn’t right, and we decided to check it out and that’s when I found out I had leukemia.
MF: What else were you experiencing?
KA: For the large part, we were going through pre-season, so every day in and day out I wasn’t feeling right. Something felt off compared to how I felt in the past. I never felt fit. It just didn’t feel right at night, I couldn’t sleep at night, whether it was because of the pain in my shoulders or hips. I could just tell something was wrong. The last straw was we had a game Mar. 30 at home and I felt terrible during the game, my feet were completely dumb. We talked to the doctors, and they had no idea, so we took a blood test and see if anything shows up. I was never expecting anything that serious, I was expecting to be vitamin B deficient or something random, but it was kind of a shock when I found out.
MF: What was your initial reaction?
KA: I was scared. Anytime you hear cancer, you kind of expect the worse. That was the initial feeling I had. I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know much about leukemia, and it was an overall shock at the time.
MF: What was the treatment process like?
KA: The first week, it took a while, I guess there are a lot of different types of leukemia, and they kind of had to narrow it down and do more specific tests to see what it was sand once they did I was pretty fortunate with the diagnosis and they decided I could just take medicine which is a chemo-pill and I take that everyday and ill probably have to take that for the rest of my life and I just go for check ups pretty frequently to make sure everything is progressing well.
MF: Do you know how long you’ll be on that?
KA: They say it’s for life, or if any new medicine comes out, that’s what I’m looking at.
MF: Do you see any side effects from it? Does it wear you out?
KA: Maybe a little. There is a list of side effects, but the only thing I felt was maybe a little tired and fatigue, and nauseous and queasy at times, but it’s gotten a lot better. Day in and out I feel pretty much normal, there’s not a huge difference fortunately.
MF: Was it hard for you to ask for help?
KA: It was. That’s a point the doctor brought up to me. Being an athlete you go through the process and a lot of things don’t always go your way. The fatigue thing, maybe instead of thinking something was wrong, I thought maybe I need to do more, whether it’s swimming or running or doing something extra. I don’t want to say I ignored some of the symptoms, but I did try to wait them out and hoped they got better. I looked into certain things like the pains; we did MRI’s on my shoulders and everything. But as it got worse and worse, it got to that point where I knew I had to do something. But I think being proactive is key. The doctor said some of the symptoms I had were extreme, the types that you don’t usually get ’cause being proactive would detect it early and they go to their doctor and just get it checked. I could have been a little more proactive about it, but I’m proud they found it all together.
MF: Of all the guys on the Gillette team, who do you think will come out with the best mustache?
KA: Of the people I’m with here, I’d say Danny Amendola. He’s prime for a pretty good-looking mustache. Not only can he rock a mustache, but it seems he can pull it off very well. He has a lot of potential for that mustache, but I think a lot of people have good-looking mustaches, so I’m not sure who would have the best one.