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Cancer Nurse, Survivor & Advocate Succumbs To Mesothelioma


Helen Caron was a survivor, in more ways than one. The 86 year-old retired nurse had already survived three bouts of cancer before being diagnosed with mesothelioma a little over a year ago. In 1986, she was diagnosed with breast cancer for which she underwent a mastectomy. She was diagnosed with kidney and thyroid cancer and received chemotherapy and radiation treatment in 1991. In 1992, she was again diagnosed with cancer in her other breast and underwent a second mastectomy. The onslaught of setbacks she experienced in the early 1990s, gratefully gave way to 20 years of good health and cancer-free status until the summer of 2012.

When Helen began experiencing shortness of breath and a persistent cough, her doctor ordered a chest x-ray which revealed a suspected tumor on her lung, but because of the treatment she had received for her kidney cancer, she was unable to undergo further imaging studies. Her doctors therefore quickly proceeded with a needle biopsy and in August of 2012, Helen was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma.

She was subsequently referred to an oncologist at the Kaiser Medical Center in Ontario, California where it was determined that because of her compromised kidney function secondary to her kidney cancer, Helen was not a candidate for either chemotherapy or surgery. Accordingly, Helen was placed on hospice care.

Although Helen had spent her life working in emergency rooms and in oncology, often in grim situations, she was not prepared to learn that she did not qualify for treatment for her mesothelioma cancer. She endured difficult treatments which she willingly undertook during her previous bouts of cancer, believing each time that because she had beaten cancer before, she could do so again.

With the news from her doctors that she could not undergo any treatment, one would think that Helen would feel powerless. To the contrary, Helen gained strength from the opportunity to defy her dim prognosis. When she was placed on hospice care, she took it as a challenge to do for herself what the hospice nurse attempted to do for her. She claimed victory when her nurse asserted that she really didn’t require her services.

Helen and her partner

Helen’s spirit came as no surprise to her son, he had seen her overcome many challenges throughout her life. After long shifts caring for the sick as a nurse, she was always able to summon the energy to provide him with a healthy and loving home and support his endeavors. When she wasn’t working, or busy raising her son, Helen spoke publicly on cancer, and offered counseling on cancer as well as grief counseling. Helen was revered by those who worked under her as being a phenomenal boss and nurse who always had great compassion for her patients and their families, and always took the time to listen to their needs and calm their fears.
Although Helen was doing surprisingly well one year after her diagnosis with not receiving any treatment, her tumor continued to slowly grow. Even though she was not on any pain medicine, she reported that she was not experiencing any pain and suffering.

Helen passed away peacefully on September 20, 2013, in her sleep. She will be greatly missed by her son Ron, and all those around her who gained strength and comfort from her presence in their lives.

*** Posted on January 15, 2014 ***