Founder of WebWhispers
Lt. Col. David L. Helms, USAF, (Ret.), is known as "Dutch" to the many larynx cancer patients and survivors who meet via the web site and Email exchanges he started shortly after his own laryngectomy.
Dutch had been a military jet pilot, accredited diplomat, negotiator, teacher, instructor, coach, narrator and emcee for a variety of events. He held briefings, led discussions, and sang in choirs, choruses, and barbershop quartets. His entire life had been about talking and singing. He simply could not imagine going through life without his voice and, thus, losing it was devastating.
No one told him about the existence of the International Association of Laryngectomees (IAL) where he might find a local laryngectomee support group, so he did not have that benefit. His computer did provide some limited answers and, in an effort to help himself in his own adjustment and to aid others, in 1996 he invited other laryngectomees to join him on his then newly created "Cancer of the Larynx" web site.
By 1998, this site had evolved into the International online support group that is
now known as "WebWhispers", which fortunately provides needed reliable information, sensitive assistance, support, and common sense guidance to the initially diagnosed cancer patient and to those post-op, needing rehabilitation, as well. WebWhispers also provides social interaction with others who share the same new lifestyle, who have confronted the same problems, and who are willing to work together for the benefit of all laryngectomees - worldwide.
Dutch, born and raised in Berea, Ohio - just outside of Cleveland - now resides in El Lago, Texas, on Clear Lake, near NASA's Johnson Space Center in the Houston area, and is the permanent Webmaster, Vice President of Internet Activities, and a member of the Executive Committee of the WebWhispers.
Passing of Lt. Colonel David L. "Dutch" Helms
WebWhispers' Founder - 1943-2006
It is with deep regret that your Executive Committee announces the passing of our Founder, Webmaster, Vice President of Internet Activities, and a good friend to all laryngectomees, Lt. Colonel David L. Helms USAF, (Rtd), on November 1, 2006 at El Lago, Tx. "Dutch", as he was known to the many larynx cancer patients and survivors who meet on the WebWhispers Site, had a cancer recurrence just over a year ago and has been putting up the good fight and still working on the WebWhispers Site until a few months ago.
Dutch was born in Berea, Ohio in 1943 and, after becoming a laryngectomee in 1994, he founded an extension of his own web site dedicated to laryngeal cancer. This group was started in late 1996 and Incorporated in 1998 as WebWhispers. This site has grown through the years and we currently have about 1650 members with most of those enrolled on the WebWhispers email list. Dutch leaves many close friends who shall remember him forever as an outstanding person who served many others without need for praise or recognition.
Dutch served as a pilot in the US Air Force for 21 years and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He served one tour in the Vietnam conflict attached to the 81st Airborne Division as a Forward Aircraft Controller. During Dutch's tour in Vietnam he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action. Following that, he was appointed Military Attache at the US embassy in Bonn, Germany due to his fluency in the German language and his ability to negotiate with other allied Officers. While in Bonn, he contracted laryngeal cancer and returned home for his laryngectomy surgery.
Dutch has requested that his remains be cremated and then interred in his family grave site in North Olmstead, Ohio. He has requested a simple grave-side Masonic service with customary military honors. A Memorial Service may be arranged, and, if held, Dutch has requested that it take place at Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Berea, Ohio the Helms' family home church. Further details will be forwarded to the List as they become available.
Dutch was a quiet and decent man who helped more people than we will ever know. We will follow in his footsteps and continue to aid laryngectomees and caregivers as Dutch has requested. He lived an extraordinary life and shall not be forgotten.
May God bless him.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, -- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of -- wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air ....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
P/O John Gillespie Magee, 412 Sqn RCAF, 1941
An American in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Source: Library of Congress/University of Toronto
On behalf of the WebWhispers Executive Committee.
Murray A. Allan
Excerpts of Messages in Appreciation of Dutch
(sent to WebWhispers and WW Officers)
These are the links to the newsletters that he wrote for and presented on the web.
12/09/2006 Message: I was sorry to hear of the passing of Dutch Helms. I was a crew chief when Dutch was a pilot at Camp Evans Vietnam in 1970. You may enjoy seeing some photos of him from 1970 on my website. Dutch enjoyed the site and contacted some of his friends through my site.
Best of luck in all your endeavors.
Mike Shea, Webmaster www.campevansfacs.com
From HeadLines - 1998
Depression and Recovery
by Dutch Helms
The early 1990's were my not best years, to put it mildly. I separated from my wife in 1990 with the divorce taking a year before it was final. In the interim, I had met another woman and fallen madly in love with her. We planned to tie the knot in September of 1992...but, 3 weeks prior to the wedding, she called it off and reconciled with her ex-husband instead. I was decimated!!
Shortly thereafter, I was diagnosed with cancer and radiation was recommended. At that time, I was stationed and living overseas - but was medivaced to the USAF Cancer Treatment Center, Wilford Hall, Lackland AFB, Texas....a great facility, but none of my friends or family near.... it was just me and doctors and nurses. No one ever told me about the IAL (International Association of Laryngectomees) or the existence of laryngectomee support groups, so I had no support help at that time. I found out about them later. Unfortunately, the radiation failed to arrest the cancer and I quickly became severely depressed I could not stand the thought of going through the rest of my life with no voice and a hole in my neck. To that point, my entire life had been about talking and singing. My "jobs" had been military jet pilot, negotiator, teacher, instructor, coach, emcee for events, narrator, briefer, discussion leader, etc. I sang in choirs, barbershop quartets and choruses. I simply could not imagine going through life without a VOICE. Thus, being told that a laryngectomy would be necessary, while I was still suffering from going through the divorce and the canceled wedding, really shocked my whole system. Lacking the nearby support of family and friends, drove me deep into depression and to near suicide. I simply couldn’t think of a reason to live.
Luckily I got help and spent over a month in a military mental health facility "getting a grip on life" again. Afterwards, I pressed ahead with treatments and finally the laryngectomy. After the surgery, my best friend since junior high school, with whom I had remained in contact over all the years, offered me the opportunity to live with him, his wife and family while I "recovered". This gesture and experience really saved my life and finally got me out of most of the depression. It forced me to be with people (in this case, two adults and three teenage girls) every day...forced me to talk, get accustomed to using my new voice in all sorts of social situations - shopping at the Mall, ordering pizza's over the phone, and being there when they entertained their other friends. In essence, living with them forced me to become re-engaged in living. At first, I felt like a freak with a computer voice and a funny hole in my neck. But this feeling gradually passed as I became more involved with "living a normal life". I was thrilled when I traded in my electro-larynx for a TEP/prosthesis voice - that boosted my confidence in myself and my ability to communicate. All this time, I was learning that being a laryngectomee was NOT the end of the world; that leading a good, interesting, and rewarding life was still possible. I've been "on my own" and in my own place now for almost 18 months, living as normal a life as possible and I love it!
Another thing that helped me cope was this silly computer!! Having the computer with its games and especially the Internet capability, has been a Godsend! This machine not only provided entertainment and education possibilities, but also the tools to learn new skills - Yes, old dogs can learn new tricks. I quickly established a Home Page on the Internet and, as a lark, attempted to create a Larynx Cancer information site, primarily to help poor folks like me who, when initially diagnosed, needed help getting reliable information, assistance, support and guidance. This "info site" gradually blossomed into the WebWhispers Club that we have today. My association with the site, both creatively in building it and socially/psychologically in participating with everyone in it, has been extremely helpful in coping and living, and that is a gross understatement.
My suggestions for you:
1) See a doctor about possible physical problems - For example: I had thyroid problems but did not know it for a full year after surgery. Once placed on daily Synthroid tablets to take care of this, my attitude greatly improved.
2) Force yourself to become active and involved in life again, doing as much, as physically possible, of what you did before. You will feel self-conscious about your voice - but only at first. This feeling will pass with time and will pass sooner if you get out and use it in all situations. Nothing will happen if you just choose to sit at home and hide from people and life. You may think you are not ready....Hell, no one is ever ready to face things like this. But, waiting to be ready is not an alternative. Getting out is something you need to do, ready or not.... and you don't GET ready until you start to DO something. Launch yourself back into life. Surround yourself with all the support you can. You will soon discover that it ain't all that bad!!
3) Make sure, if possible, that you have something you can do and enjoy doing. Resurrect an old hobby, create a new one, set up a project to occupy your time, energy, brain power, and spirit!! Ideally, find something that requires interaction with other people. Try to help yourself find a good reason to get up every morning... other than to simply watch TV, read, and eat.
4) If all else fails and you are still depressed, seek professional psychological help with individual or group therapy.
I came through and so can you!!!
Dutch Helms, El Lago, Texas
This was originally published in the August 1998 issue of HeadLines and may be found with other HeadLines articles on the WebWhispers site along with re-print information:
Pat Wertz Sanders
Pat Sanders was beloved by her family and many friends and members of the laryngectomy community, and will be deeply missed. Her contributions to WebWhispers were numerous. A prolific writer, Pat contributed each month to Whispers on the Web. She also wrote and compiled hundreds of pages and links of useful information for the WebWhispers library. Reaching out to laryngectomees and their caregivers on a regular basis through the daily digest, she encouraged them to share their own personal experiences. Pat acknowledged that others learn from these stories and it often “saves pain or gives hope.”