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At 30 years old, Alex Niles was living his dream. The youth soccer star had turned his talents into a Division I scholarship at Drexel University, and his post-college life as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch had him set up well for life. He was happy, healthy, active, and living and enjoying life in New York City.
Except for the stomach pains. For months, Niles endured them, having trouble sleeping and losing weight without explanation.
On Sept. 11, 2013, Niles saw a gastroenterologist and learned of news that would change his life forever. He had stage IV gastric cancer.
"It totally came out of nowhere," Niles says. "I was a super healthy guy, focused on health and nutrition, no family history. It just happened to be one of those freak stories and we'll never know why. When I was told I had stage IV cancer, it felt quite literally like a punch in the gut."
Niles, who on Thursday underwent his 18th cycle of intense chemotherapy, now views his diagnosis as a blessing in disguise. He's been blogging and telling his story, but more important, he's designed a clothing company, CUREWEAR, for cancer patients to allow them to receive treatment without having to take off their shirts. And once CUREWEAR is up and running, a portion of the proceeds from each supporter shirt purchased will go towards the production of a shirt for a patient.
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"Long story short, there's just nothing comfortable from a patient perspective," Niles says. "I cannot stress how belittling and demeaning it is, as you show up for treatment, to take your shirt off and get poked by a nurse. It led to this simple concept that really is a confidence booster and brings a smile to your face. To put it simply, CUREWEAR is comfortable clothing that allows people receiving treatment to keep their clothes on. It's got a little hole in it so you can keep your shirt on, and that little hole makes a big difference."
Partial proceeds for every purchase go to the funding of clothes for other patients, much in the way Tom's Shoes has built their business model by delivering a pair of free, new shoes to a child in need for every sale it makes. Niles launched a Kickstarter with the aim of getting the company off the ground this fall, and he's already exceeded his $30,000 goal. That goal has now been increased to $50,000. When Niles showed his nurses and oncology team at New York University what he had created, they began to cry.
"When you get diagnosed with something like cancer, you feel nothing but alone," NIles said. "And what I'm trying to do is communicate to people that you're not alone. Whether hearing from someone, or seeing someone wear something that supports you, that makes you feel so great. If I can make a small difference, it's all worth it."