Kevin Alston began noticing the changes in the offseason. Little things hadn’t felt right in the past and the symptoms became more evident last winter.
Darrius Barnes recognized the differences in his teammate and roommate once they got back on the soccer field. The New England Revolution defender was only 24 at the time and one of the most fit people Barnes knew – why was he struggling during workouts?
In April Alston went to see a doctor with his parents and trainer to get to the bottom of it. Back at their apartment, Barnes wondered why Alston had been at his appointment for so long. He figured the results would show Alston had low iron or something minor. The tests had revealed something very different.
Alston called their mutual friend George Tembon, who was with Barnes at the time, to tell them the news. But first he had to take care of other business.
“It's funny because we had to pay rent that day, so for some reason my mind was on paying rent,” Alston recalled in CSNNE.com’s “State of the Revs” web series. “I was like first we need to sort that out, and then I have to tell them. Those are my best friends from the start and I have to let them know. I knew (Darrius) was going to have to go to practice the next day and people were going to ask questions, and I had to fill them in.”
Doctors had told Alston they believed he had chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a rare but treatable disease. The phone call stunned Barnes.
“At that point in time, my heart just stopped basically,” he said. “I was in complete shock, thinking there was no way this could happen to such a gifted athlete, such a good person, such a good friend of mine. That was the first time I had ever dealt with something like that, that close to home and someone that close to me being diagnosed with such a serious disease like that.”
Barnes went to the hospital and was with Alston when he received the official diagnosis of CML. They were drafted in the same class and have been roommates for the past four years – there was no doubt they were going to get through with one another.
“They were in the hospital room when the doctors gave me the diagnosis,” Alston said of Barnes and Tembon. “It was my parents, the trainer, and them. So it’s like, I felt like they were part of it too and they knew how to help out.”
Alston’s friends stayed and visited with him that first night in the hospital. They brought him cake, Twizzlers, and buffalo wings to lift his mood, showing their support at the very start of his road to recovery.
Over the next three months Alston stayed at their apartment while he underwent treatment. Barnes returned home from practices and games focused on keeping Alston upbeat until he could start playing again. When he and Tembon would go out to eat, he encouraged a reluctant Alston to join them. Small acts like that added up to mean a lot to Alston.
“I can’t tell you how many times I was sitting in the apartment, I don’t want to say I was depressed but I was just thinking about a lot of things,” he said. “Those (acts) alone just kept my spirits up.”
Alston was removed from the Revolution’s disabled list on July 15 and made his return to game action on July 27. The roommates and close friends are now back where they belong together – on the soccer field.