Special to The Interim

Gabriele Helms, an assistant professor of English at the University of British Columbia, died on New Year’s Eve of breast cancer, but not before giving life to her much-awaited daughter, who was born at 26 weeks – just before her mother’s death.

Helms’ first battle with breast cancer was in 2001, after she miscarried her first child. She went through months of treatment and afterward, helped found a support group for women survivors of breast cancer. When the cancer returned in September 2004, she was already pregnant again with her second child. Friends report that her joy at being a mother was visible, even through the difficulties of treatment.

In Canada, is it routine for pregnant women diagnosed with cancer to abort, but Helms’ friends said that being a mother was her first priority. Ruth Kwok, Helms’ friend and fellow breast cancer survivor, told the Vancouver Province newspaper, “She was in excruciating pain, but she was still elated about her pregnancy. I saw her during her stay in the hospital and she was always putting her hand on her stomach, because she could feel the baby by that time. In (Gabi’s) obituary, it says she chose her daughter over herself. She did that because she wanted the child so much.”

The baby, Hana Gabriele, was due in early April, and will have to spend several months in hospital yet. “I believe she (Helms) was happy when she passed. The doctors believe that Gabi was aware, that she knew she had delivered a child,” Kwok said. “It was the number one priority in her life.”

This article originally appeared on, Jan. 12.