The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

August 25, 2013

Dr. Keen Babbage, Laura Babbage and fighting cancer

RICHMOND — We can't afford to be innocent.

Stand up and face the enemy.

It's a do or die situation. We will be invincible.

- Pat Benatar

The contemporary that I never got to meet was Steven Jobs. His career with Apple computers kicked into gear about the same time that I started my business, and he was someone I followed avidly. I've read every book, watched every interview and felt like I knew him.

I figured that we would get the chance to meet because Jobs did a terrific job of taking care of himself. He was careful about his diet, did not have bad habits and seemed programmed to live a long life.

I will not meet him. Jobs died from cancer at age 56.

Jobs was one of those reminders that cancer does not always discriminate in where it occurs.

After decades of study and trillions of dollars, we really don't know that much about cancer. We know that smoking will make you more prone to lung cancer and there are things in our environment that increase the likelihood of cancer, but we don't know why it hits a person who is doing "everything right."

At age 59, Dr. Keen Babbage is the epitome of doing "everything right."

He does not smoke or drink. He has had a lifetime of healthy eating, regular exercise and once walked over 400 miles with a baseball to kick off the beginning of the Cincinnati Reds season. He has never been overweight. He has made regular doctor visits for decades.

In short, he is the last guy who should have cancer sneak up on him. But it did. He found out the same week that his mother died.

Prostate cancer took my strong, athletic, father at age 59. He battled like a warrior, but towards the end, Dad wondered out loud about fairness. He had done everything right, and still it was not enough.

With the double whammy of losing his mother and finding that he had a rare form of nasal cancer, it would have been easy for Keen to give up. Although he knocked on heaven's door several times, he stayed on this side and eventually made it back to the place he dearly loves: standing in a classroom and teaching.

I'm helping Keen and his sister-in-law Laura Babbage write a book called “Life Lessons from Cancer.” It will be released Oct. 14 by RRP International, a publishing company which I serve as CEO and chairman. 

It's a compelling and instructional story.

Life “Lessons from Cancer” is not just about Keen. Laura Babbage and I have been friends since we were in a high school play together. She married Bob Babbage, who was best man in my first wedding and remains one of my closest friends. I know the Babbage family well and feel like they are an extension of my own.

Laura is registered nurse who served as a high-ranking health care executive and, after a midlife trip through divinity school, is now chaplain at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. She knows her way around the health care system and is a strong-willed personality who does not suffer fools gladly.

Laura is the perfect tag team partner in a fight against cancer. She knows the system, is not afraid to say what is on her mind and does not take no for an answer.

In the war against cancer, “going with the flow” will result in death. Keen and Laura prepared to dig in for a long-term fight. As Keen notes in the book, cancer will either kill you or you will kill it. Cancer is not interested in peace negotiations or shuttle diplomacy.

Keen's story is a terrific perspective from the view of someone with cancer, but another great story comes from Laura. She is a world-class caregiver and used the website CaringBridge to give frequent, if not daily, updates on Keen's treatment and blunt assessment of the situation.

The stark and honest reports, without the slightest bit of sugar coating, let those of us who care about Keen know what was going on. I read them within seconds of their being posted every day.

CaringBridge also gave a terrific, day-by-day guideline of what a world-class caregiver would do in treating a loved one. Those posts gave Laura a road map when preparing her part of the book.

“Life Lessons from Cancer” is not just the story of a cancer patient and his sister-in-law. It's the story of two extraordinary people who teach lessons that all of us will learn from.

Not just lessons about cancer, but about life and how to live it to the fullest.

Don McNay is a bestselling author and expert on what to do when you when the lottery, based in Richmond, and New Orleans.

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