Nancy Babich (top, center) with family
Nancy Babich just doesn’t have time for the negativity. She never has. Don’t get her wrong – being diagnosed with breast cancer wasn’t easy, and the bad thoughts certainly crept in at times. But she wasn’t having any of it, and today, the 10-year survivor is here to share that inspiration with others.
“You know, I’m a positive person anyway – a glass half full kind of person – so trying to maintain that, and the ‘what if’ on the other side, is a balancing act. But I have three daughters of my own and I needed to be strong for them,” Babich said. “I needed my husband to know I was going to be OK. It was, for me, a teaching opportunity that you have to deal with things that come your way. I knew negative thoughts or ideas wouldn’t be beneficial to me, so I didn’t go there.”
“I just always was positive about it,” Babich continued. “I knew it was going to be OK, I knew that it wasn’t a death sentence, and I just had such incredible support.”
In 2009, Babich discovered something in her right breast that doctors diagnosed correctly as a lipoma – a small, fatty tumor that is not cancerous. She had it removed, and went about her life.
In 2010, after her routine screening mammogram, doctors discovered that the lipoma they took out the year before had been hiding something – cancer.
The interesting thing is, it’s Babich’s job to help diagnose others with the disease. She is the Director of Diagnostic Imaging at Porter Regional Hospital. It’s the department that oversees mammography and other radiologic breast health exams, among other imaging services. So she knew what she was facing, and still tampered the devil of negativity that would crawl onto her shoulder at times.
“I had a double mastectomy and three weeks later I was back to work. I didn’t want to be defined by an illness—I wanted to get back to my life,” Babich said. “I didn’t allow cancer to make my decision for me or keep me from living my life. I have too many people to live for and I wanted people to see that there are survivors every single day.”
While Babich was not diagnosed with cancer in her left breast, she chose the double mastectomy because she felt that option was right for her. Before her diagnosis, both her younger and older sisters were diagnosed as well.
“But we’re all doing incredibly well because we’re aware and we know that we are strong women and we can get through things. You just can’t give up. You have to fight,” she said.
And she had a good team on her side.
“Working in healthcare - of course, it’s an advantage. I’m in imaging, and I know surgeons and our fellowship-trained radiologist in mammography. When I was as going through it all I could actually sit down and have conversations with them. It made me wish every patient had those opportunities, and I think we’re there now at Porter with our breast care coordinator, who connects patients to the resources they need,” Babich said.
“But then sometimes when you’re in healthcare, you know too much, and it can be scary. I knew I didn’t need to go outside of Porter Health Care System to get what I needed. I had all the experts I needed right here.”
Like many patients, Babich endured chemotherapy and eventually underwent reconstructive surgery.
“My husband is amazingly incredible. Chemo was probably the hardest thing to go through just because it sucked the life out of me. My husband was kind of my bodyguard – he would tell people I was doing great and let people know if I wasn’t available for phone calls or visitors.”
The support poured from all over, including her four children.
“My daughter is a pediatric nurse and she came with me for surgery and spent the night with me. I had my surgery the day before Thanksgiving so all my kids were home, and they surrounded me. It was a blessing. When I got home from surgery, all day my doorbell rang with people delivering flowers. It was overwhelming – I felt like I needed to donate them. Knowing that I had touched so many lives gave me a lot of motivation to fight.”
Treatment, recovery, and sometimes even surviving with that tinge of doubt – it’s not always easy. Babich draws strength from being able to help others.
“I don’t regret one decision I made from the time I was diagnosed until today,” she said. “I think the most I have to gain from it is to share this knowledge with someone else.”
One of the staff members at the hospital stopped her in the hall one day, scared about her own diagnosis.
“She asked if she could talk to me and I said, ‘absolutely.’ There’s nothing too intimate to share when someone is facing this. I try to be very open with anyone who wants to know about my experiences because maybe it will help them in their own.”
Activism also fuels Babich to help others. In addition to daily education through her professional career, she walks in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and encourages others to find their people during a cancer journey.
“Breast cancer awareness is important to me. Early detection is important to me. The Relay for Life and cancer research is important to me. But it’s not just the fundraising, it’s the comradery. It’s set in that positive tone to support breast cancer survivors and lets us know we are all in this together.”
While Babich will celebrate 10 years this October since her diagnosis, she stressed that it’s important to her to make every day a celebration. She plans to relish every moment she has with friends and family. And a large family it is—four children, seven grandchildren, and 10 siblings of her own.
“I’m blessed. There are people who don’t have that kind of support system and we need to be there when they need a shoulder,” she said.
“A lot of positive things can come out of a bad experience. God made us strong and always seems to put people in our lives at the right time,” Babich continued. “Having cancer sometimes brings you to people you wouldn’t normally know. In all my care, I fell in love with my physician’s assistant – she was just amazing.”
And while her brother has since passed away after a battle from pancreatic cancer, Babich still finds hope in positivity and the human connection.
“It’s a beautiful world we live in. We can’t let one disease change that for us.”