October 20, 2014

Insights

I married Betty Ann Tarr of Winthrop, Mass., on Nov. 29, 1952. Fifty-five years and counting, we make a point of stating our love for each other as we wake up each day. And we count our blessings. Without this strong bond as husband and wife, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for our marriage to survive the hardships and challenges we have experienced.

One of the earliest of those challenges was my career advancement at the Burroughs Corporation in Boston. I started out as sales trainee selling hand-operated adding machines in 1952 and left as a corporate vice president in 1982. During this time, Betty and I moved eight times with our three children—Nancy, the oldest; Robert, second born; and Barbara, the youngest.

These were difficult years for my family. I frequently traveled for work, leaving Betty to manage alone during the week. But I always called home every evening so she would know where I was. I never missed a night.

It was difficult for the children to leave their friends behind and begin new schools each time we relocated. But our moves and my promotions were always confirmed by family meetings, during which we discussed the pros and cons of a change of scenery. We believed in including our children in all situations we had in life. I don’t think a lot of families have such open discussions.

As our children grew older, Betty and I enjoyed taking each of them on a college search, visiting several campuses they had in mind. Nancy graduated from the University of Colorado, Robert from Western Michigan University and Barbara from Michigan State. It was around the time of Robert’s graduation that he became seriously ill with agoraphobia and its associated panic attacks.

For many months, our son was afraid to leave our home, unable to stand in line or go to work. Betty and I faithfully attended weekly group support meetings with Robert to try to help him overcome this horrible disease that forced his world to collapse into the safety of our den. Finally, after visiting countless doctors, the clinical trial medication from one in Massachusetts helped Robert to improve. Over several years, we witnessed his confidence grow along with his ability to do more things in daily life. Today, he is gainfully employed and happily married with a 10-year-old daughter.

Robert’s illness was the first—but not the worst—of many health-related hardships my wife and I have faced. Our youngest, Barbara, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. After undergoing radiation treatment in our hometown in Michigan, the cancer metastasized into her liver.

Betty and I moved in with Barbara during her struggle to live. She had a bone marrow transplant at Duke University, followed by a temporary recovery during which her long blond hair grew back black with little curls. After a year free of cancer, the disease came roaring back. Barbara had a second transplant at the University of Colorado, and her mother and I traveled extensively to support the fight against her disease. We said to each other, "For us to be with her at this time is an opportunity we will never regret."

At the same time Barbara was battling her cancer, I had two melanomas—level four out of five in severity—that required me to go to Tulane Medical Center twice for eight-hour infusions. Betty was faced with the possibility of losing her daughter and husband at the same time. I was fortunate to overcome the negative odds for survival and haven’t had a recurrence in 15 years. But after a four-year battle with cancer, Barbara died in January 1995.

Losing your daughter is the most devastating thing in the world. Instead of falling into despair, her mother and I chose to celebrate her life. In her memory, we formed Barbara’s Friends, The Children’s Hospital Cancer Fund, hoping we could raise $100,000 to help children with cancer. After 13 years, we have been able to raise $8 million, all of which has gone to help Southwest Florida children stricken with cancer and to provide financial assistance to their families.

We have seen many marriages crumble under the weight of battling a child’s cancer. Sometimes one spouse feels left out when the other gives excessive love to the sick child. Other times, it comes from the financial pressure of medical bills. It breaks my heart that they’re not able to cope together. When you lose a child, you need to pull together.

In our case, Betty and I worked together to battle our children’s illnesses. We went to Robert’s support groups together. We traveled to Colorado to help Barbara with her treatment together. It’s always been a team effort.

The hardships didn’t end with Barbara’s death. In 2003, Betty developed autoimmune vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood system. She also battles neuropathy of the feet and rheumatoid arthritis, which led to two knee-replacement surgeries and one hip replacement. She takes daily medications to help control her pain, but remains a member of the Barbara’s Friends Advisory Board and continues to critique our ideas.

Betty and I have encountered many challenges in our married life. I don’t think our match was perfect, but we strive to make it as perfect as we can. We have differences, but we cope with them. We’re able to compromise. We accept the middle road so both of us feel satisfied that we faced the issue.

Life is beautiful for us right now, filled with love, achievements and memories of the 55 golden years we have had together. We’re both in our 70s. I don’t know how many more years we have to go, but we enjoy every minute of life.

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