"Hello... it's me!" - Reflection on the past years

by Prof. Dr. Clemens Unger, Freiburg

25 years of Kirstin's Way and 15 years of Kirstin Diehl Foundation: this is truly an occasion to reflect on the past years. At the center of these, of course, is the founder of Kirstin's Way - Kirstin herself - and so I would like to turn to her first. Kirstin Diehl was attending the Rhein-Wied-Gymnasium in Neuwied when she had to interrupt school in the 12th grade. The doctors had diagnosed her with cancer. Because of the advanced disease, she was advised to have a liver transplant. The leading transplant physician at the time, Professor Pichlmeier of the Hannover Medical School, operated on her in July 1990, completely removing the tumor tissue through a liver transplant and removal of the stomach, spleen and lymph nodes. Kirstin went back to school and was able to graduate in June 1993. She had a firm place to study German, psychology and sociology at the University of Trier. In other words, the future was planned.

But fate can be merciless: In early 1994, she had a relapse; the tumor had affected her lungs and rectum. Two months later, in March 1994, I met Kirstin for the first time. She had come with her parents to the Tumor Biology Clinic in Freiburg to be treated. She had probably visited several clinics beforehand, but then decided on Freiburg. I still have the picture in front of me: Kirstin was sitting dressed on the bed in the ward of Bingen, her parents were standing at the head end. A pretty young woman who did not show any signs of her illness.

"What do you want to do with me?" she asked, looking at me expectantly. The question caught me off guard and I quickly realized that a very confident young woman was sitting across from me. I also quickly understood that, as her attending physician, I had to coordinate all measures with her if the necessary trust was to develop. The diagnostic and treatment days in Freiburg were each followed by a longer stay at home in Neuwied. I remember the many phone calls we had, usually late in the evening. They regularly began with a long drawn-out "Hello... it's me". She seldom talked about herself, but all the more in detail about cancer patients who needed her help; she had telephone contact with many patients suffering from cancer. She often asked me to call the patients personally and ask if and how I could help. I had the impression that she had set up a regular consultation hour for those seeking help, forgetting her own illness.

She began raising funds for cancer research very early on, and research at the Tumor Biology Clinic in particular has benefited considerably from this. The first 30,000 DM were given to the clinic in March 1995. Because of her selfless commitment to cancer research, she was named Woman of the Year in the RTL program "Schreinemakers Life" in December 1995. Kirstin was tireless. Her main interest was not her own person but rather others affected by cancer. Her special commitment to cancer patients was also honored by politicians: she was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit in October 1996. With great attention she followed various research projects which could be financially supported by her activity, especially the development of new cancer drugs fascinated her. Thus, I had to report to her regularly when I returned to Freiburg from congresses and symposia. When I returned from the American cancer congress in February 1997, I could no longer give her any news, although I wanted to. Kirstin died during my return flight.

In her last letter to her parents, Kirstin Diehl made a passionate commitment to continue her work with her words: "[...] Continue where I had to stop". Many people have followed this call. In the following years, a lot of money was collected through the personal commitment of numerous people with original actions and with original ideas. There were no limits to the inventiveness of the helpers: whether through street festivals, sporting events, concerts, bazaars and exhibitions for a good cause - but also through festivals and events in schools and kindergartens, clubs, companies and through private donors, well over six million euros in donations have been collected to date and were made available to cancer research. The driving forces behind all these activities were Gerda and Gerd Diehl, who worked incredibly diligently and intensively to fulfill their daughter's last wish. That they want to step back now is understandable and I hope that retirement will agree with them.

My respect and thanks go to Gerda and Gerd Diehl.