This story is part of an editorial series created in collaboration with ASOS Supports Talent.
“People don’t think about cancer when it is not in their life. But I think that’s the mistake.” Indeed, most people tend to avoid the "C word" if at all possible, but not 24-year-old artist/student Kim Kanert. After registering with the DKMS, a German organization that connects registered bone marrow or stem cell donors to their "genetic twin" matches across the world, Kanert received word that she had a match—a 29-year-old American suffering from leukemia. It’s rare to find a match on the registry (the chances are around 1 in 100), which is why it’s so important that more people sign up to increase patients’ chances of finding a donor. For Kanert, instead of being apprehensive about what lay ahead, receiving the news was something to celebrate. “It’s so rare to match with someone, when I got that email it was like a second birthday.”
After donating, which Kanert describes as an “easy” procedure, she was shocked to find that so many of her peers weren’t even aware that a donation like this was possible, and so she decided to dedicate herself to raising awareness. “Young people are connected all over the world with Facebook or Instagram—why not with something like this that is so important and can save a life.”
Teaming up with online fashion retailer ASOS as part of its ASOS Supports Talent initiative, Kanert created a multimedia portrait series of people from across Germany—a mix of newly registered donors, those who have already donated, and those with leukemia who she mainly found online through social media and friends of friends. During their photo sessions, Kanert got to know her subjects. She compared experiences with fellow donors and fielded questions from the newly registered—helping to alleviate their fears. It was working with the sufferers of leukemia, though, that really struck Kanert. One woman, in particular, had a strong effect on her—Marisol Bohlig, a 24-year-old with leukemia who has yet to find a genetic match for donation. Kanert said that despite visibly being very sick, Bohlig has an appetite for life, “she knows that she could die in the next year or two so decided to travel around the world. Meeting her was crazy, it grounded me a lot.” Bohlig’s perseverance and courage put small day-to-day problems like smashing your phone screen or missing your train in perspective, “when you meet people like her, you think about your life a little bit differently.”
In her portraits, Kanert chooses not to differentiate the donors from those with cancer, going so far as painting a single stroke over each subject’s face rendering them anonymous. She chose this for two reasons, the first because cancer is indiscriminate, “I think it’s important to tell people that anyone of us can be one of these groups.” The second because the process of donating is anonymous beyond basic details such as gender, age, or location. While it varies from country to country, in Germany the donor and patient can contact each other after two years. Unfortunately, for Kanert, this isn’t possible as the man she donated to passed away shortly after receiving her stem cells. But for her, the procedure was still worth it, “I donated because I wanted to save a person's life. But sometimes the leukemia comes back, or people are already too ill and we can’t make them better, so time is all you can give.”
Working with ASOS, Kanert received funds and mentorship to help develop her project and put it on a global stage. Alongside raising awareness and educating people about the donation process, she decided to also donate the proceeds of her project to the DKMS, which covers all costs related to donations and encourages people to register and actually donate.
For Kanert, the best part of the talent program was the mentorship and getting the chance to meet the other artists, “I’m not a person who needs a lot of money, I’m more interested in connecting with people from all over the world, so working with the other artists and the people at ASOS was amazing. I think it’s so great that a company like ASOS made a program to support young people who are talented and who are making something. We are all working on different things—art, photos, music, and even cooking, but tying us together is the fact that we all want to do something real and with our hearts.”
Now that her project with ASOS is over, Kanert plans to take things one step at a time, saying, “I’m not a girl who plans much for the future.” That said, she does have a few concrete plans—finish college, move to Hamburg, and most importantly, “continue to make work and not stand still.”