It all began in grade school in the tiny northern town of Warroad, MN, when Bob wrote Peg a note: “If you’ll be my girlfriend, I’ll be your boyfriend.” She just smiled when she read it, says Bob, two years her elder.
Years later Bob and Peg Green married as he began a 21-year naval career traveling the world. His last port was St. Petersburg, FL, where he served two years as the commanding officer of the Naval Reserve Center before retiring in 1979 with the rank of Commander. Between ports, Bob and Peg found time to rear two daughters and two sons (twins): Trisha, David, Brian, and Sara.
“It was scary at first,” Peg told a group of friends several years ago, “especially when Bob was at sea for months at a time. We were given a destination and had to follow, not knowing how difficult the challenge, how frightening the road, how tough the assignment.”
Both Peg and Bob thought retirement would bring more stability, but his second career with a defense contractor was “even more challenging,” Peg told those friends gathered at her church. Ever-changing assignments over 17 years sent him (and occasionally her) to Saudi Arabia, California, the Arctic, Montreal, wherever. While their youngest was still in high school, “I stayed behind (in St. Petersburg) and coped with the promise of a great reward at the end of it all.”
After his second retirement, says Bob, “We had ten years to travel everywhere together. Both of us are of Scandinavian descent so we decided to rent a house for six weeks in Norway.”
But things changed in April 2009. A simple blood test during a medical check-up showed Peg had Type 2 diabetes. But that accelerated to the point that she had to take four insulin shots a day. The doctors quickly discovered that the root problem was pancreatic cancer.
Peg, Bob, and their four children were huddled in the doctor’s office when they received the news: Stage 4 cancer. “I was in disbelief,” he says.
“Peg looked at each of us and said, ‘We are NOT going to use that term again: Stage 4.’ And we didn’t,” he says. “Whenever she was asked how she was doing, Peg always responded, ‘I’m fine.’”
Peg began a routine of chemotherapy of three weeks on and one week of rest. “We traveled every chance we could during that week off,” says Bob.
Two months after her diagnosis, Peg was sharing her thoughts with friends at their church, St. Thomas Episcopal in St. Petersburg. “One big reason I’m here,” she told them, “is that I’ve learned the wonderful benefits of sharing one’s story. I hope I can encourage you to do your own sharing. At least for me, the outpouring of love and concern I’ve witnessed has been tremendously strengthening and calming.”
“Needless to say,” she continued, “we’ve had a roller coaster of emotions…Yet throughout it all I wondered why I haven’t felt panic or despair. The first thing is that I have chosen to believe in the simple assurance of God’s promise…I’ve also had a sudden revelation that God has been preparing me for these uncharted waters for many years” as she recounted their family’s challenges arising from Bob’s duty assignments, first with the Navy and later with the defense contractor.
“Just having the assurance that so many are praying for me has touched me immeasurably…It certainly strengthens my belief in the power of prayer and even that some healing can come just from sharing.” Bob says they were aware of groups praying from Norway to Brazil and points in between.
Peg, an accomplished pianist and organist, closed her remarks that day by asking Bob to sing a Lutheran hymn—“Healer of Our Every Ill”—as she accompanied him.
In September 2009, they decided to visit FDR’s summer home in New Brunswick, on Campobello Island. “It was the longest trip we’d taken during this time,” he says. “We got there on the day of our 53rd anniversary, September 1. Ten days later Peg was gone—on 9/11. We’d just crossed the border back into Maine.” It was five months after her diagnosis; Peg was 72 years old.
Reflecting back on this time, Bob says, “I guess I was in denial during these five months. Somehow, I thought I was going to make Peg well; I was always within shouting distance of her.”
Peg’s loss “knocked the wind out of my sails,” Bob recounts today. “I didn’t know what to do, so I found a friend in a bottle of vodka. I didn’t want people to know how much I was drinking, so I became a closet drinker, adding more and more liquor each day.”
Months later his son David invited Bob to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting in Hunstville, AL. Afterwards, Bob says, “I went to my car, pulled out my vodka and dumped it out in front of David. I’ve been sober ever since.” That was August 10, 2010. His recovery from alcoholism took several paths through AA-type groups at the VA and at a couple of churches in St. Petersburg.
Bob’s primary AA group today is in Minneapolis, where he moved three years ago to be with his new partner, Debbie. There must be something about the women of Hockeytown USA, the nickname for Warroad (pop. 1,700), for that’s where Debbie also grew up, seventeen years Bob’s junior. Interestingly, Bob’s mother was the third-grade teacher for all three—Bob, Peg, and Debbie.
I asked Bob what he might have learned through their intense, short-lived crisis. “I learned how much I really loved Peg and how thankful I was she’d been a part of my life for so long. She was the perfect Navy wife. I also learned how thankful I am for our four children and for their support through this time—their support for Peg, for me, and for each other.”
Thinking further, he adds that it’s important to listen, share, and support others who are going through a crisis of their own, whether cancer or something else. It feels good, he intimates, to know that others have your back when necessary.
Regarding pancreatic cancer, he emphasized that it’s crucial to catch it as early as possible. “There’s still very little that doctors can do since it moves so fast.”
Finally, Bob encourages those caught up in a crisis to get involved with activities supporting that crisis, such as fund-raisers. His son Brian, for example, helped organize the Tampa Bay Purple Stride walk for pancreatic cancer, raising approximately $400,000 over three years.
Bob’s last word: “Think about the opportunity to give generously.”
Thank you, Bob, for being willing to share your story and Peg’s. Many readers, I’m sure, will find it poignant and meaningful.
(Bob Green is among the handful of readers who raised their hands when I put out an inquiry several months ago looking for anyone willing to share their family’s story. If you would like to, please email me at email@example.com.)
Congratulations to Ranay for winning my last post’s drawing for The Book of Joy by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. It apparently caught the eye of many for we had a record number of entries for this giveaway. It’s worth buying.
On another note, I’m sure all have learned of Glen Campbell’s passing after suffering several years from Alzheimer’s. Campbell was a favorite of mine, but I’d forgotten just how good he was on the guitar. You might enjoy his fun rendition of the William Tell Overture.
P.S. As usual, feel free to forward this post to your friends and family. If you’d like to sign up for my blog, it’s free; just click here.
P.P.S. My book, A Path Revealed: How Hope, Love, and Joy Found Us Deep in a Maze Called Alzheimer’s, can be found on Amazon or ordered from any bookstore. Clinical psychologist Dr. Landy Anderton says: “This book belongs on the nightstand of every family coping with a crisis.”