Martin Schoeller
Tierney McAfee and Sara Hammel
August 15, 2015 10:15 AM

Former President Jimmy Carter is battling advanced cancer with his trademark “humor and impatience”, but friends and family say the one person who can help him through this is the love of his life, wife Rosalynn Carter.

“I know that Rosalynn will be right there with him,” Jimmy’s cousin Betty Pope tells PEOPLE. “As tiny and frail as she appears, she’s a strong individual. They’re very devoted. They will be very positive.”

The unstoppable and inseparable duo, who celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary in July, do everything together – from fighting disease in Africa, to building houses for the homeless in Haiti, to going fly-fishing in Russia – so there’s no doubt that they will face this new challenge together.

Although they may have to shelve their daily exercise (riding two and half miles on a three-wheel electric scooter called a Trikke) while Jimmy is undergoing treatment at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, their nightly ritual of reading the Bible aloud to each other in bed – and in Spanish – is one they’re surely leaning into now.

“For how he gets through this, you cannot exclude the inspiration of Rosalynn,” says DuBose Porter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia and a longtime friend and political ally of Jimmy. Although one close family friend tells PEOPLE of Rosalynn, “I’m sure she’s scared,” Porter says their “faith will get them through and make them stronger.”

Not to mention their rare bond and nearly 70-year marriage.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to know where one ends and the other begins,” Porter says of the couple.

The real difficulty will be keeping Jimmy down, predicts the Carters’ close friend Jill Stuckey.

“Nobody has ever had much success in stopping President Carter from doing anything,” says Stuckey, who has weekly dinners with the couple. “When he got out of the hospital the other day and arrived back at The Carter Center to go to work, he grabbed his bag and walked in carrying his suitcase. He wasn’t supposed to be doing anything after surgery, but stopping him from doing anything is nearly impossible.”

“But Rosalynn will take that challenge on,” Stuckey adds. “She has always been by his side during tough times, she always will be, and if anybody can get him to think of his health first it will be Mrs. Carter.”

Jimmy also has a strong support system in his neighbors in Plains, Georgia, the tiny, rural town where he was born and raised and currently resides with his wife.

“We’re going to do everything in our power in this community to help him get through this,” Stuckey says. “We love him.”

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter on his campaign plane in Plains, Georgia, in 1976
Bettmann/Corbis

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: A Sad New Chapter in Their Seven-Decade Love Story

Jimmy and Rosalynn met and fell in love when the future 39th president of the United States was a young Naval officer in the 1940s. Their triumphs and accomplishments in the years past are too many to count, but their relationship can be summed up in an affectionate acronym coined by the Carter family: “ILYTG.”

“I love you the goodest,” Jimmy explained to PEOPLE in a 2014 sit-down. “That’s what my mother and daddy used to say back and forth, and I picked it up with Rosa. Now all our children do the same thing – ILYTG on the phone or in emails.”

Jimmy’s loved ones are “concerned but optimistic” that he’ll pull through this, if only because the Nobel Peace prize-winner still has so much left to give.

Indeed, the former president told PEOPLE in 2014, “There’s so much more to do! My best years are now.”

Reporting by SANDRA SOBIERAJ WESTFALL

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