Couple Overcomes COVID-19, Cancer, Chemotherapy in 46-Year Marriage: 'Our Message Today Is Hope'
After nearly 50 years of marriage, Robert and Janice Beecham have seen it all: cancer, strokes, chemotherapy and even coronavirus.
But the Texas couple have braved their obstacles with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts — and now, they want to share their resilient message with others.
“Sometimes you feel so bad that you feel like all the fight is gone,” Janice tells PEOPLE. “But my grandmother used to say, if you can stand the pull, he’ll pull you through…. Our message today is hope.”
Like many across the globe, Robert, 65, and Janice, 64, have had a difficult 2020, one that saw a recurrence of cancer for Janice and a COVID-19 diagnosis for both husband and wife that nearly left them separated on their anniversary.
But for a pair of high school sweethearts whose origin story is straight out of a romantic comedy, that’s hardly enough to phase them.
“One of the other cheerleaders made a dare at a pep rally and she said, ‘I bet you won’t kiss Rob Beecham.’ And I said, ‘I bet you I will,’” Janice recalls with a laugh. “I kissed him on a dare and that kiss has lasted 46 years.”
The DeSoto-based couple married young, on Janice’s 18th birthday in April 1974, and are parents to sons Rodney, 46, Marcus, 41, and Brandon, 38. They went on to become grandparents of six.
Their strength was first tested in 1985, when Janice was diagnosed with breast cancer, and then again in 2014 and 2016, when Robert suffered a pair of strokes, both in his sleep.
Just like this year’s COVID-19 struggle, both of Robert’s strokes coincidentally fell around the time of the couple’s anniversary.
“Janice was teasing me and she said, ‘Baby, listen, you’re just doing this because you don’t want to take me somewhere on our anniversary,’” he says, joking. “And I said, trust me, I wouldn’t have strokes and go through COVID to keep from taking you somewhere.”
Robert came down with severe COVID-19 symptoms in late March, and found out after he was hospitalized that he had tested positive for the virus that has now infected nearly 7 million Americans and killed more than 201,000.
“I just felt terrible. And so Janice called our oldest son and she said, ‘I don’t think your dad is feeling well,’” Robert recalls. “And so he got on the phone with me and he said, ‘Dad, you okay?’ And he heard it in my voice. And so he said, ‘You don’t think I need to get you to the hospital?’ I said yeah, come get me. And when I didn’t put up a fight, he knew.”
Janice, who was still recovering from two different surgeries to treat recent diagnoses of both uterine and breast cancer, issued her husband a stern warning as he headed out the door.
“She said, ‘You come back home to me,’” Robert recalls. “And even with that, I felt a little better. But to see her standing there, and then realizing I’m leaving her here…. We’re never apart. We’re best friends.”
After her husband was hospitalized, Janice learned he’d tested positive for COVID-19 while at the doctor’s office getting her first chemotherapy treatment.
She later learned that she, too, had tested positive for the virus, though her symptoms were less severe than her husband’s and did not require hospitalization.
As he recovered in the hospital, Robert poured his emotions into a series of poems, and leaned on a newfound friendship with Dr. Satyam Nayak at Parkland Health & Hospital System, who helped make sure Robert was home in time to celebrate his anniversary and Janice’s birthday by her side.
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“That was my motivation to get well, so I could get home,” he says.
Janice wrapped her cancer treatments in July, and on Monday underwent a radiation treatment, though she says she’s feeling “great,” even if her sense of taste and smell have yet to return following her COVID-19 diagnosis.
Robert, meanwhile, says he’s fully recovered and feels “back to normal.”
For a couple who’s weathered quite a few storms over the years, the Beechams say that having had each other to lean on has made all the difference.
“We just bounce off each other. I mean, we do everything together. And it’s not a bore. She told a friend of hers the other day that if something ever happens to me, I want you to take care of him,” Robert recalls. “And she said, ‘Well, Janice, you know I will.’ And so I told her, ‘Well, you won’t get a chance to take care of me because we’re going together.’”
Adds Janice: “We can do this. If you need me to hold you up, I’m going to hold you up. When my time comes, you just hold me up. You know? So that way we’ll get through it together.”
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