By KEITH WALTHER
To Bob and JoAnne Paton, their marriage vows weren’t words to be spoken one day and forgotten the next.
And their actions over 60 years of marriage, have resonated louder than any words could, anyway. They have demonstrated their love to be true — proving that “in sickness in health” is no catch phrase just to utter and watch wedding attenders reach for a tissue.
No, this is real life. Real love.
The Fairfield Glade residents were married on August 10, 1952 in Kankakee, Illinois and have lived here since 1993. Bob plays golf three times a week and JoAnne is active in many clubs and activities — amazing considering the horrendous health mountains they both have had to climb.
Bob, a former tri-state Executive for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, has had surgery for skin cancer on his nose, a cancerous kidney removed, and radiation for prostate cancer.
Meanwhile, JoAnne has dealt with bouts of cancer that have allowed her to show a strength that belies her petite frame.
“JoAnne has always been my beautiful college sweetheart.,” Bob noted. “She is a wonderful wife and mother and I think related to the “energizer bunny.” She is an eternal optimist.”
She would have to be — considering the courage it took to go through what she has …
“I retired from teach in June of 1992,” JoAnne said, recalling the time when their lives were turned upside down. “In November on a trip to the Glade, I discovered a suspicious area under my right breast. I had just had my “back to school” physical and a mammogram, even though I wasn’t going back to school. Still, I returned to my doctor and then to a surgeon who both thought it was nothing but biopsied it anyway at my request. “
To the Paton’s great shock, it was a tumor — and it was malignant. JoAnne had a lumpectomy and 30 days of radiation in early 1993.
The Patons sold their house in Naperville, Illinois and headed to Fairfield Glade. During the course of the big move, JoAnne felt a “persistent pain” which she figured was just from “moving too many heavy boxes.”
Concerned, however, she went to the doctor. An exam and tests showed a growth on her left ovary. As they both hoped it was just a cyst, surgery was performed at Cumberland Medical Center.
Once again, the news floored them. It was a malignant ovarian tumor. Especially in years past, ovarian cancer is known to be one of the most difficult to beat. Realizing this, caregivers sent for her family and the Red Cross even brought one of the Paton’s four sons home from Germany.
In the midst of all this, JoAnne made what seemed to be a curious request, asking a nurse to get her a book written by the late comedienne Gilda Radner entitled, “It’s Always Something,” which chronicled Radner’s experience with ovarian cancer.
The nurse said, “You know she dies in it.”
“I know,” JoAnne replied, “but I want to find out what happened before she died.”
Yes, JoAnne was not ready to give up. Seeing a gynecological oncologist in Knoxville, he told her in a matter of fact way, “This will be the hardest fight of your life.”
JoAnne flatly responded, “I will be the best patient you ever had.”
With Bob by her side every step of the way, JoAnne beat the odds, whipping the cancer.
“Eight months later, I was in a television commercial with (the doctor),” JoAnne remarked. “I guess the ovarian cancer provided my ‘15 minutes of fame’ as Baptist Hospital sent out a full crew of 20 people to spend the day filming me. I appeared in 3 commercials, a full-page ad in Southern Living and a half page article with a picture of me playing tennis was in the Knoxville Sentinel.”
Life was good once again. But this tale of endurance and unconditional love was not over.
“In January 2006,” JoAnne says, “I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer which was in all my bones. I am still being treated for it.”
No doubt she will beat that, too. Meanwhile, the couple continue to live life to the full and have great plans to celebrate their 60th anniversary — joining the Fairfield Glade Ladies Club Travel Group for a trip to Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic in September.
Through all the turmoil, JoAnne has had her man by her side, just as she has been there for him through his own tenuous health battles.
“Bob helped me by being at my side through all my health crises,” JoAnne said. “He always drove me to Knoxville for blood work and chemo. He gave me lots of shots and was always there for me in whatever way he could help.”
And he always will be. As that, you see, is what they both vowed would happen.