TOWN OF TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Thomas Dielhl’s year long battle with cancer began one year ago Friday, when the then 32-year-old got a call from his doctor, and was shortly thereafter diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia.
It’s a battle that kept him in the hospital for more than half the year, and it came at a very high point in a life that included many.
The Kenmore East High School hockey team had just finished their year on top. Cell phone video taken by Diehl’s sister shows coach Diehl hugging his players and celebrating. At one point, he’s seen coming to the center of the ice for the perfect show of triumph — fist in the air, victorious.
But life would change — quickly.
“Everyone was kind of flying high, and Tom just started to not feel good,” said his sister Jaime Pichette.
Blood tests would later reveal cancer, and an urgent need for treatment.
Within hours of him taking the test, Pichette said her brother had to inform his wife the prognosis wasn’t good.
“She was giving the babies a bath, and Tom walked into the bathroom and said, ‘Call your parents to come and watch the kids and we gotta go,” Pichette said. “She was like, what? What’s wrong? And Tom said, the doctor said I’m dying.”
Pichette said her reality turned upside down.
“That can’t be right. He’s the epitome of health, he works out every day, he eats what he’s supposed to eat, he does what he’s supposed to do,” she said. “He’s got the brightest future of anybody I know. That’s not Tom.”
What Tom is, is a fighter. And he would enter the battle of his life — for his life, lasting longer than what most believed to be possible.
“It had been a year of battle after battle after battle, and he just, he couldn’t any more,” Pichette said. “I’ll never understand why cancer chooses who it chooses. But why him.”
The 33-year-old Diehl is the youngest lieutenant in the history of the Town of Tonawanda Police Department, after being hired at the age of 21.
“Everything he did, it was never 50 percent or 75 percent, everything he did he applied himself to fully,” said Tonawanda Lt. Patrick Day, who first met Diehl at the Academy. “Whether it be work, hockey, his family being a husband, father, brother, everything he did, he gave it his all, and he was very passionate about it.”
Jim Diehl is Tom’s father, coach and confidant. He said his son always be able to determine what the right thing was to do, and he did it.
“I couldn’t be more proud. He’s the best son anybody could ever wish for,” Jim Diehl said. “What he accomplished in his 33 years is a lot more than what most people accomplish in twice that,” he said. “Nobody ever had a bad thing to say about him. Matter of fact, you’d see them light up … when they’d talk about Tom.”
Thomas Diehl’s light was dimmed on Monday, when he slipped away at Roswell Park. He was 33.
“I now know what it feels like to have a broken heart, to literally have a broken heart,” said his mother Shawn Diehl. “I always said that song, ‘Where were you when the World Stopped Turning,’ I was standing at Roswell when my world stopped turning.”
The funeral on Saturday will include full police honors with an open invitation to anyone in law enforcement.
The expectation is they will number in the hundreds, and they will come from near and far.
Tom Diehl is the youngest leutenant in the history of the Town of Tonawanda Police Department, and he will soon be the youngest captain. The department is planning to honor him with a posthumous promotion.
Receiving takes place from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at C. Mertz and Son Funeral Home, Inc., 911 Englewood Ave. Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday in St. Amelia Catholic Church, 2999 Eggert Road in the Town of Tonawanda.