A typical Shawn look with his Luka Doncic jersey, baseball hat, hoodie, and large, goofy smile.

A typical Shawn look with his Luka Doncic jersey, baseball hat, hoodie, and large, goofy smile.

 
Shawn on the BPAP machine that helped him breathe off some of the excess CO2 in his lungs.

Shawn on the BPAP machine that helped him breathe off some of the excess CO2 in his lungs.

 
Me in my typical spot, right next to Shawn’s bed, with some of Shawn’s medical team at MD Anderson.

Me in my typical spot, right next to Shawn’s bed, with some of Shawn’s medical team at MD Anderson.

 
Shawn and his mom, Misty, fighting together during his final days.

Shawn and his mom, Misty, fighting together during his final days.

Hello. My name is Shawn Helms. This is the story of my son, Shawn Helms Jr. This story is raw and hard to tell. But, I need everyone to understand why this fight is so important to me.

Shawn Helms Jr. was my eldest son. He was a 21-year-old college student from Heath, TX.  Earlier this year, Shawn’s back started hurting him.  After trying to tough it out for a bit, he went to a local urgent care clinic. They told him not to worry, that he likely needed a new mattress and prescribed him some muscle relaxers.  They also said it might be kidney stones. Two weeks later, when his back was still hurting him, he scheduled a doctor’s appointment.  The doctors took x-rays and found that Shawn’s right lung was 75% full of fluid.  They assumed he had pneumonia.  They prescribed him antibiotics and sent him to the pulmonologist who drained 2 liters of fluid off his lung.  They said the color of the fluid was consistent with pneumonia, so they sent him home and said the antibiotics should make him better within a few days.

For the next week, Shawn Jr felt better. I remember him standing in my living room, with the relief of being able to use his right lung again saying “I could run a marathon right now.”  It wasn’t until later that Shawn told me the doctors left him a voicemail that the fluid was not malignant (i.e., it was not cancer). I didn’t even know that they were testing for cancer. 

A few days later, Shawn’s back was hurting him again.  He was hesitant to go back to the doctor. Shawn went to tell his mom he was feeling bad and as he was walking to the kitchen he became short of breath. My wife called me and we decided he needed to go to the emergency room. The x-ray they took that night showed that his right lung had fluid again, but this time it was 100% full.  They drained another 2 liters of fluid and transferred him to a larger hospital in Dallas.  Shawn was admitted to the hospital. After 6 days of waiting, frustration, lots of tests, scans, and blood-work, they had results.

My life was changed in an instant. It was just me, my wife, and Shawn in the room. My wife wrote the moment best:

“A doctor came into the room. I didn't think too much about it. These next moments are now etched in my mind forever. My son lying in pain in the hospital bed, the doctor sitting on the window ledge, my husband standing near the end of Jr's bed, the nurse at the computer to my left, and I was sitting on a cot they had brought in for us to sleep on. Without any warning, the pulmonologist said that the results were back and they showed a malignancy in the cells. I was shocked...just staring at the guy. Then my husband asked, "What does that mean?" It was a good question. I must have heard him wrong. But then the pulmonologist said it means Jr has cancer. Cancer! I thought, they must be wrong. My husband almost fainted. Jr didn't respond at all. I wondered if he even heard what was said.”

They ordered a PET scan and the nightmare got worse. The melanoma cancer had already metastasized to his lungs, kidney, shoulder, bones, and lymph nodes. Upon hearing the news, we quickly transferred him to MD Anderson. We wanted him to be cared for by the world’s best melanoma doctors.

At the first MD Anderson appointment, we learned that the melanoma started on the top of Shawn’s head – on his scalp under his thick, black, curly hair.  We never saw it until that day. 

Over the next few months, Shawn Jr endured several major surgeries, drained his lung each day, fought terrible nausea, was extremely fatigued, received 3 two-medicine immunotherapy treatments, had a chemotherapy treatment, was continually short of breath, and spent the majority of his time in the hospital. He was miserable during the day and could not sleep at night.

Less than 4 months later, on July 11th, 2019, I lost my boy. Five days before they told him he wouldn’t make it through the night, but Shawn fought for every moment. In those last days, he was surrounded by his family and best friends. My wife and I were holding his hands when he took his final breath. It was so painful.

All the details of his daily battles are available at www.shawnhelmsjr.com.

Three days after Shawn’s death, me and the rest of my heartbroken family decided we would do everything in our power to help as many families as possible avoid the pain of melanoma. This inspired us to start the Helms Hope Foundation.

It has only been a few days since our family was changed forever, and our hearts ache missing Shawn Jr. We have many people reaching out asking how they can love and support our family. In lieu of flowers, gifts, food, or anything else, please consider donating to the Helms Hope Foundation and join the fight with a tax deductible gift.

With Love,

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