History of the Start of WebWhispers

It is interesting to see that we started, not as a local group, but as a world wide organization with the first ten “members”. We had two from England, and the eight from the US were scattered around the country:

  • Richard Tunnard and Les Wood from the UK.
  • Dutch Helms and Charlie Anderson – TX
  • John Ready and Wayne Baker – CA
  • Joe Johnson – AL
  • Ned Bienemann – MD
  • Robert Cline – IA
  • Bill (and Mary Alice) Renison – NM

These 10 members are shown in a copy of the earliest email among members we were able to find.  This is from early December, 1996, and was supplied to us by Charles Anderson from TX who is pretty sure he was the first member other than our founder – Dutch Helms.

Another week into December and there were 12 members, plus Dutch.

The next two were:

  • Belinda Sue Shoop – OH
  • Richard Boucher – OH

1 Dec 1997 Update, one year later:

We counted 87 laryngectomees, 5 Otolaryngologists, 1 Rad Oncologist, 15 SLPs and 1 Head & Neck nurse. Dutch guessed at about 20 spouses = 130.

Founders of Web Whispers


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.

Lieutenant Colonel David Helms

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.

Dutch passed away on November 1, 2006 at El Lago, TX.

Select the black heading above to go to the letters about Dutch.

Dutch’s Obituary

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.

High Flight

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
WW President

His Writings

Throughout his long live, Dutch contributed much to our various newsletters including WebWhisper and Headlines. You will find many entries from Dutch scattered throughout the WebWhispers site and the newsletters. One of his writings from Headline newsletter (1998) follows:

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

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.”

Pat Wertz Sanders

Letters from Members on Pat

Pat Sanders joined our hole in the neck family on March 31, 1995. Ironically her new normal began on my birth date and it was the beginning of a long friendship and a lasting legacy on her part.

I first “met” Pat sometime in 1996 but it’s just been too long ago to put an exact date on it. Our first encounter took place on the CompuServe Forum which I hosted for laryngectomees on their Head & Neck Cancer Forum, while Len Librizzi (former WW webmaster and editor) did the same on AOL’s forum. That’s how we both met Pat. Boy did she have a lot questions back then, unlike later when more often than not it was her that had the answers, and if not tried to find them.

Back then Pat was just learning to use the computer her son had bought her even though she couldn’t even type. But, that was her first means of communicating while she learned to use her electro larynx. A Servox I believe but after all these years I could be wrong on that part. For reasons that I don’t recall she had been waiting quite a while for her puncture so she could be fitted with a prosthesis, and she told me that she was going to use the Bivona Colorado, an early combination of a trach tube and prosthesis combined. I advised her that most people that tried that method failed for various reasons mostly related to needing an exact fit and alignment with the puncture, but Pat being Pat was determined to try it anyway. Well it didn’t work and they are no longer in business, but Pat was just getting started.

Not long after that Pat started her” Kirkland Headlines” newsletter, and we both joined a new group started by some guy named Dutch Helms. That newsletter became one of my favorites and I looked forward to it every month. When I asked for permission to reprint some of her articles in my newsletter (Look Who’s Talking) she was actually surprised that someone would actually want to do that. But, as many of us know after reading her for the past 20 years she was an amazing writer and an avid researcher.

For years I tried to get Pat to join the International Association of Laryngectomees board but she always declined and wouldn’t even attend a meeting. She was perfectly happy helping with her local group (which didn’t belong to IAL) and posting comments on Dutch’s site. Then three things happened that profoundly changed the face of laryngectomee support as we knew.
The first was to convince Dutch to give up his format where everyone sent him an email and then he forwarded it to his members, and switch to the current listserv system we now use. That generated a lot more new members, speeded everything up, and made it easier to communicate.

The second thing was to finally accept my invitation, and the offer of a scholarship, to attend the 1999 IAL Voice Institute in Reno. As Pat has written before that was like an epiphany to her as far as laryngectomee knowledge and the quest for more goes. Up till then she was a good, occasional contributor to the discussion. But from that point on she never stopped talking or writing and she was fantastic at it.

The third and probably the longest enduring contribution she made was her guidance and leadership in transforming Dutch’s group into the organization that became WebWhispers. She was instrumental in forming the board, bylaws, procedures, revamping the website, and generating the best damn laryngectomee newsletter in the world.

Pat will be missed, but rather than mourn her loss I hope we all rejoice in the love, comfort, and joy she brought to our world. Honor her memory by continuing her legacy of paying it forward to all those that need our support. That will make her smile.

Jack Henslee

MMore Than the Sum of Our Parts
I imagine that many of you felt as I did when we learned the seriousness of Pat’s condition and although saddened were not surprised to hear of her passing. It was like losing an elderly parent. You know they have lived long and well and that death comes to us all eventually but it leaves you feeling a little lost and suddenly painfully aware of that space they occupied in your life for so long. I am not sure Pat would appreciate being called elderly but at 86, nearly 87, that’s pretty much true! While it has some negative connotations in our modern youth-oriented society, elder has been a term of respect for far longer. And she was our elder stateswoman for sure.

I first met Pat in person in Galveston TX , December 2004 as we arrived for the Panama Canal cruise. I had only recently joined WebWhispers although my journey with throat cancer had begun over 3 years earlier. I was just beginning to feel like I had my life back and my mother, who is only a few years older than Pat, and I were taking this cruise in celebration. Pat came to our room, introduced herself and immediately started coaching me on using my Servox, tying my scarf and generally assuming control and taking me under her wing – in other words, typical Pat. It was wonderful and both my mom and and I felt relieved to be around so many knowledgeable folks who truly understood this new lary life. Later that week I rode with Pat out to Mayan ruins and she discovered I “did some writing” and immediately asked if I would be interested in writing for the WW newsletter. I was thrilled and jumped at the chance. She had never even read a word from me but she took a chance and I will be forever grateful that she did. I say jokingly I was shanghaied for WW on that cruise.

When we got back home I sent her a copy of the journal that I had been writing since my initial diagnosis and that same day she offered me an extraordinary opportunity to re-invent myself in this strange new world. Between Friends debuted March 2005 and with few exceptions it has managed to appear here every month since. I have said many times I had to lose my voice in order to find it.

As it turns out, I am not the only one writing here these days who feels the same way. Both Len Hynds and Noirin Sheahan have similar experiences with writing in general and WW in particular and I am sure there are others.

Pat found her life’s calling in WW. With guts, determination and persistence she shaped WW into the wonderful organization we know today. To her lasting credit she realized that her vision alone was not enough to carry WW forward. She understood that it must become greater than the sum of its parts. WW works as well as it does because of ALL its members and the vast resources they encompass. Every single member can contribute and it is the sum total of those contributions that keep WW functioning as folks ask and answer questions or offer advice on the daily list, write columns here and offer hints and suggestions and referrals that go into the library – all the wealth of information that is WW today.

Pat’s ultimate legacy is one of inclusion – that each and every one of us is valuable and together we are stronger and better. WebWhispers is not dependent on any one of us to continue and while we deeply mourn each loss we have been made better because of each and every one’s presence. She left us with a great gift and for that she will always be remembered and loved.

Donna McGary

When it comes to Pat W. Sanders, I will always wonder how God placed such a big heart and mind into such a tiny body. When I stepped into the WebWhispers scene as a laryngectomee in 2000, it was clear to me that she was already heavily involved behind the scenes assisting Dutch with the many facets of the organization.
I will always admire her for her dedication to WebWhispers and its members. It seems she reached out to all, endlessly and tirelessly. I jokingly asked her on numerous occasions: “Don’t you ever sleep?” She would reply with a chuckle and stated that she would catch a nap in the afternoon. I still don’t know if she ever slept but I do know for certain that I have evidenced her works throughout all hours of the day and night.

Like countless others, Lisa and I will dearly miss Pat. Often Pat would phone to discuss WebWhispers related matters with me and she would end up in lengthy conversations with Lisa, discussing anything and everything under the sun. Pat was extremely knowledgeable about most anything and everything under the sun. She was the most intelligent person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and knowing. We did not always agree on matters but could always agree to disagree without any loss of respect on either side. Pat was very giving of herself and her time and very dedicated to serving the lary community in any way possible. She will certainly remain an “icon” for years to come.

Pat will be dearly missed by countless others, including Lisa and myself.
She touched our lives and will be forever etched in our memories.

Michael Csapo

After becoming president of WebWhispers, Pat made WebWhispers her mission in life. She helped too many people to count and was called “Mom” by most of us that worked with her. We all loved her and admired her for her dedication and big heart. She helped grow WebWhispers to one of the leading organizations for helping laryngectomies world wide. Her book ” I Left My Voice On The Dinning Room Table” is entertaining and informative. Pat was the grand lady of WebWhispers and everyone knew her for all that she did for the laryngectomy community. Pat was also one of the smartest people I have every meet. It was my honor to know her and consider her a friend.

Ron Mattoon

Pat’s Poem

We speechless people have lost a friend,
when Pat’s life of service, came to an end.
A mother to our family wide,
her compassion, she could never hide.

If she could speak to us today,
sadly to say, “ I could not stay.
Jesus opened his arms to me
and my youthful spirit, became free. “

“ So no longer must you weep,
though I have gone, I’m not asleep.
I’m with you still in every way.
I am, my dears, with you today.”

“ I am the summer breeze that blows ,
the wonder of those winter snows,
each sparkling star you see at night,
I am, my dears, within your sight.”

“ I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
I am each golden grain of sand,
I am the one who holds your hand.”

“So my dears, no longer cry,
though not here, I did not die.”

Len A Hynds