Bill and Ann Beaton have known each other for almost their entire lives. They went to grammar school together, attending St. Pius in Redwood City. Their first photo together was in the seventh grade, when they were both on the track team. They attended separate high schools, but later while attending junior college, their mutual interest in skiing led to friendship. Their time on the slopes brought them closer together and they eventually married in 1975. Bill and Ann moved to Danville and raised their two children there. As a family, the Beatons led an active life, often skiing together in Tahoe, and enjoying many competitive activities together. Throughout their lives, Bill spent countless hours playing golf with daughter Erin and dirt bike riding with his son Dan.
Bill had a long and successful career as a finance executive for several large agriculture firms and Ann worked in the local school district. They had planned their golden years to be filled with the activities they loved; hiking, playing golf, and skiing- something Bill had set a personal goal to be able to do well into his eighties. But life had a different plan for the Beaton family. It was, in fact, during a ski trip that Bill began to notice a change in his body. He was not able to turn as well and his right foot was very cold.
“Of course, I chocked this up to the fact he had been shoveling snow in his Sperry top siders!” Ann said. “But a month or so later, Bill developed drop foot in his right foot. We went to a spine surgeon who performed a laminectomy on his back to relieve pressure on his nerves. When this didn't work, he sent us to a neurologist. She suspected ALS, and then we went to UCSF for the formal evaluation.”
Upon learning of his diagnosis of ALS in June 2017 at the age 64, Bill’s initial reaction was, “Wait a minute- this is not part of our retirement plan!” Having always been a proactive person, Ann at first welcomed all the pamphlets and informational literature that their Golden West Chapter care manager offered them. “I am a planner, by nature, always looking towards the future and what needs to be accomplished,” she said. “But as I started to learn more, I felt very overwhelmed. Over these several months, I have learned that what works best for us is to take things one day at a time.“
“I had a really unique experience last July after I was diagnosed,” shared Bill. “My son Dan and I went dirt bike riding, which was something we had gotten a little competitive with over the years. This time I couldn’t get on, but Dan lifted my leg over so I could get onto the motorcycle. We rode about as fast as we’ve ever ridden, knowing it would be our last time, and we took them as fast as they could go. It was just a ball- more than a little scary- but it was fun.”
“As devastating as this disease is, we do count our blessings that this happened in our later years,” shared Ann. “Our children are grown and on their own. I could not imagine the challenges of raising a family while taking care of a family member navigating this disease. I am in awe of those who manage this.”
One thing that has stood out for both Bill and Ann during this challenging time is the importance of support. From local medical services, to clinical professionals, from chapter care managers to support groups, the value of this wraparound model of community-based care services has been immeasurable.
“The multidisciplinary clinic team at the ALS Center at UCSF is always there for our questions,” shares Ann. “I email them and they respond immediately. Strange as it sounds, we feel so much care and love from our team.”
Ann also recommends attending the Golden West Chapter support groups when possible. “I find solace with this group. As supportive as friends and family are, they do not have the answers and first -hand experience as someone who is going through the same thing as you.”
Bill and Ann are grateful for their friends and family, who are also essential for being able to handle the tremendous challenges of living with ALS. Their daughter lives close by with her seven year old son, Connor whom Ann often takes care of after school. Their son moved to Mississippi a year and half ago, but flies out for a visit every two months. Sometimes he is able to come with his wife Elizabeth, and their four year old twins, Gavin and Hannah.
“We have a very supportive family and friends and are lucky to have many of them close by whom we see often,' said Bill.
"If it wasn't for them, I would feel like I am in a deep, dark hole,” Ann added. “Their love and friendship keeps me afloat.”
Bill is committed to staying as active as possible. Recently, he and two of his friends went fly fishing and laughed at rolling him in and out of the boat. "I could not have done this without these two great guys."
The Beatons decided this year to participate in the 19th annual East Bay Walk to Defeat ALS on Sunday, September 30. “This is the first year that we are involved in the East Bay Walk,” shared Ann. “I sent emails to friends, family and co-workers and the response has been tremendous. Our team, Papa’s PALS, has approximately 70 walkers and has raised over $19,000 for ALS research, care services and advocacy!”
Now Bill has applied for his second clinical trial and feels good knowing he may be helping someone down the road.“My outlook on life is reflected in our family’s motto – It is what it is,” Bill says, “I picked up this phrase at work 20 years ago and started using it. In fact, our entire family started using it. We used it so often, our daughter in law bought us a plaque with the phrase that we keep on the family refrigerator. It reminds us that for whatever life throws our way to not worry about it and to make the best of the situation. If you worry, you suffer twice."
Ann continues, “It is hard to believe there is a silver lining to ALS, or any disease, but the closeness and warmth is much more evident in our relationships. We hear and say ‘I love you’ more often. And in the end, that is what is most important.”
We at the Golden West Chapter are grateful to the Beatons for sharing their heartfelt words and insight into their journey with ALS. We commend their bravery and willingness to help others also battling this disease.