Life Lessons from Cancer encourages those with cancer to build a network of support

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The fight against cancer requires not only a personal commitment to mind, body and soul; it also requires the support and physical help of family and friends.

That's one of the key messages in Life Lessons from Cancer, a book written by cancer patient Keen Babbage and his sister-in-law and caretaker, Laura Babbage.

Keen, a teacher and native Lexingtonian who has written 17 books about education, said at the first promotional event for the book in October, that he hopes the lessons in this book will be an inspiration and guidance for other patients with cancer as well as a resource for health-care providers.

Kentucky has both the highest rate of new cancers as well as the highest death rate for all cancers in the U.S., according to a report from the Kentucky Cancer Consortium. With a 2013 census report saying 27 percent of Americans live in one-person households, many cancer patients are likely fighting this battle largely alone.

Keen was one of those.

Two days after he was diagnosed with a rare form of nasal cancer, in October 2010, he began an aggressive, three-month regime of radiation and chemotherapy at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center.

His mother died of widespread abdominal cancer after his first round of chemotherapy. As she lay dying, Laura promised her that she would look after Keen.

Here's a video clip of the authors talking about the book at UK:
With great insight, Keen knew he couldn't battle cancer by himself and immediately set about building a network of people who could support him both physically and emotionally. He even enlisted the love and affection of Laura's family dog. "Cancer, we have learned, declares war," Keen said at the promotional event. "It's not a battle, it's a war."

This cancer-fighting network, according to Keen, must not only include family, but also friends and your faith community if you have one. "Put together a network and never let it go, " Keen said at the promotional event.

When building this network, Keen advises in his book that "this is the time to abolish, delete, overlook and eliminate any animosities or disagreements."

Cancer patients' needs are many. Physically, they need help with shopping and food preparation, caring for pets, laundry, cleaning, transportation, making appointments and keeping up with insurance to name a few. Emotionally, they need support that comes with companionship and encouragement.

There are times cancer patients can't leave home or the hospital for long periods; it is in these times that life must come to the patient, Keen writes.  It is only with the help and support of others that this can happen.

You must fight with every possible resource available to you, including prayer. "When someone is praying for you, it means you are not alone," Keen writes.

In response to a question about how to battle depression at the promotional event Keen said, "Small victories.  Hold onto what you believe, hold onto the people you love, eliminate every limit, find something to look forward to that can be done and then realize that it is done with a multitude of people. An individual might feel discouraged, depressed, regret. Surround yourself whenever possible with a lot of people."

Keen and Laura at Bluegrass
10,000 race, July 2011
Laura Babbage is a registered nurse who has worked as a health-care executive and is a chaplain for both UK HealthCare and St. Joseph Hospital.

Laura maintained a website on during Keen's treatment to keep family and friends informed of his condition, care and needs. The entries are included in the book and are both forthcoming and explicit. They also offer insight into the role of the caretaker.

"The caretaker needs care as well," Laura said at the promotional event. "Caretakers need to recognize their limits" and put systems in place to make sure the patient is being cared for while also taking care of themselves, she said.

Life Lessons from Cancer offers insight and encouragement to those battling cancer as well as the caregiver. It is full of lessons that not only apply to those who have cancer, but can also be applied to life.

One of the sayings for which Keen is known is his message to his students at Henry Clay High School: "Read. Read More. Keep Reading."

His motto while battling cancer came to him in a card from one of his students: "Fight. Fight more. Keep fighting."
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