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January 07, 2005
By Sue Richards

Dr. Gabriele Helms was born on May 15th, 1966. She was 38 years old when she died on New Year's eve of this year, three days after giving birth to her first child, Hana Gabriele Helms-Shore.

Gabi was an Assistant Professor of English at the University of British Columbia. She was also on the Board of Directors for The Canadian Breast Cancer Network.

I met her in October 2003, at the Canadian Breast Cancer Network's Annual General Meeting in Ottawa where she announced the plans for a new national event boldly called 'The Young and The Breastless: a Networking Event for Young Women with Breast Cancer.' I reacted by writing a single word in my notebook, 'BRILLIANT'. Then I introduced myself, showed her the Breast of Canada calendar and invited members of her support group to be models in my 2005 edition.

Gabi didn't miss a beat. Our cross-county photo shoot plan could not have gone smoother. Appropriately, on International Women's Day 2004, photos of six young women, all living with breast cancer arrived in my mail box. The incredible strength and beauty of the women took my breath away. These brave models were making young women with breast cancer more visible.

I flew to Vancouver for the Young and The Breastless event last spring. After a warm reception, I watched and listened to Gabi as she confidently and with tremendous grace and vivacious energy moved the proceedings of this groundbreaking event along. I commented to 'Dr. Helms' how I wished I was her student. Her compassion, courage and enthusiasm for life inspired me to no end. Leaders of such quality are in short supply in our world today.

The conference wrapped up on May 15th, Gabi's birthday. I sang her well wishes with unrestrained gusto, as did the rest of the delegates. Tears streamed down my face, the kind of tears that come when my heart opens and I know that my soul is being touched by something rare and beautiful.

She was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a lover, a friend, a mother and an activist-taken far too young by breast cancer.

The family would welcome donations made in Gabi's memory to the BC Cancer Agency.