, Corbin, KY


October 8, 2013

Keen Babbage: The flip side of Breaking Bad’s Walter White

CORBIN —  “Guess that’s all I have to say

 Except the feeling just grows stronger every day”


Dr. Keen Babbage is a middle-aged, extremely intelligent high school teacher who found out that he had he had stage four cancer.

Breaking Bad’s primary character, Walt White, was a middle- aged, extremely intelligent, high school teacher who found out he had terminal cancer. When looking possible death in the eye, Keen and Walt came to opposite conclusions.

Keen fought with every ounce of his being to get back to teaching in the classroom. It was the thing that kept him motivated when it looked like he had little hope of survival.

Walt used the skills he learned as a chemistry teacher to manufacture meth and became a murdering, drug dealing crime lord. He destroyed his family and all that he supposedly cared about.

Keen was all about giving back.

As noted in the last episode of Breaking Bad, Walt was all about Walt.

Breaking Bad was a huge success and considered one of the best TV shows ever produced. It was a well-written exploration of Walt’s journey into darkness.

But if I found out I had cancer or one of my loved ones had cancer, I would not sign up for a marathon of Breaking Bad. I would have them read Life Lessons from Cancer (RRP International) that Keen Babbage coauthored with his sister-in-law, Laura Babbage.

The contrast between Keen and Walt happens from the moment they find out they had cancer.

At a time when Keen found that his “sinus infection” was a rare and deadly form of nasal cancer, his mother, Judy Johnson Babbage, was near death. Judy was the daughter of Kentucky Governor Keen Johnson who raised Keen and his older brother Bob at a time when single mothers were a rarity.

Keen’s doctors started him on chemo at the Markey Cancer Research Center (at the University of Kentucky) the day after he was diagnosed.

Walt was slow to get treatment and kept his family at arm’s length from his diagnosis. Walt’s motivation for making meth was to make money for his family, but by the end of the series, his family was destroyed and his brother-in-law had lost his life because of Walt’s actions.

Keen did a lot better than Walt in the category of bonding with his in-law. His coauthor Laura Babbage brought a unique set of skills to help her brother-in-law fight cancer.

Laura took a midlife turn to the ministry after a career as a high-ranking health care administrator and a registered nurse. She is the chaplain at the University of Kentucky Medical Center.

She’s spent all of her adult life in hospitals or medical facilities and did something in Keen’s cancer treatment that made a world of difference.

She wrote about it.

As it happened.

Along with being the CEO of the company that ultimately published Life Lessons from Cancer, I’ve been a close friend to the Babbage family for decades. Thus, I couldn’t help but notice the daily updates that Laura posted to a website called CaringBridge. They were graphic, insightful and walked a line between emotion and problem solving.

I started posting them on my social media sites and they developed a huge following. They also became the core for the Life Lessons from Cancer book.

Along with a series of terrific pictures, they give an “as it happened” feel to Life Lessons from Cancer that allows the reader to learn what the Babbage family did right and why on Oct. 14, three years coming to Markey for Keen’s chemotherapy, Keen and Laura will be walking into the University of Kentucky Medical Center to talk about their new book.

A fascinating journey in a life of fascinating journeys.

Keen and Walt have a lot of common bonds.

They are both smart and fiercely determined. Keen walked from St. Louis to Cincinnati to bring a baseball to start the Cincinnati Reds 1980 season.

In the death grip of cancer, Walt stole a car, drove from New Hampshire to New Mexico, claimed revenge on his enemies and tried to clean up as many messes as possible before he met his demise.

When Breaking Bad started, Walt was an excellent teacher and devoted to his family. Cancer was the spur that changed Walt into a monster.

Cancer didn’t change Keen Babbage. If anything it gave him the push to understand that teaching and family are what his life is about.

Walt White is an interesting study of how a good person can go to the dark side, but the lessons that Keen Babbage learned from cancer are about values that we all should cherish.

I never met Walt, am glad I didn’t and have to remember that he is a mythical character.

I’m really glad I know Keen. He’s taught me a lot about courage and life. And now he is telling the world with his book.

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