DENVER (CBS4) – Barry Petersen’s career as a CBS News correspondent took him around the world to exotic destinations like Tokyo, London and Moscow. His wife, Jan Chorlton, joined him until she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Chorlton also made a mark in broadcast journalism with CBS News. Petersen said she always saw the bright side when he announced their next adventure.
“Guess what honey, we’re moving to Moscow and it’s dreary. But she’d say, ‘We’ll figure it out. We’ll make it work and we’ll bring lots of red colors,’ and things like that,” said Petersen.
The couple married on Valentine’s Day 1985 in San Francisco.
Petersen now lives in Denver. He wasn’t prepared for the diagnosis that would change their lives. Chorlton had Alzheimer’s at age 55.
“I understand life is not fair and there are lots of bad diseases. But with this, it takes the person and the personality. But the body is still there. Jan is gone,” said Petersen.
He had been seeing subtle but troubling changes in Jan’s memory for years before the official diagnosis. Through the pain, like many Alzheimer’s caregivers, Peterson would feel anger, exhaustion and despair.
In June 2008 he made the agonizing decision to place Jan in an assisted living facility. He recalled walking to his car afterwards.
“I learned that day you can cry so hard you actually fall to your knees,” said Petersen.
He visits Jan often, although she doesn’t recognize him as her husband.
Petersen also has a new love in his life. Mary Nell has supported him through the Alzheimer’s struggle and has eagerly immersed herself in Jan’s difficult world, too.
Petersen has written the book, “Jan’s Story” hoping one message stands out: “I can’t cure Alzheimer’s, although there are people who can. My point is we need to remember the stress and the toll on the caregiver.”
Petersen will be the featured speaker at the AWARE Memories Lost and Found Luncheon Nov. 9 at the DCPA Sewell Ballroom. He will be talking about his book “Jan’s Story: Love Lost to the Long Goodbye of Alzheimer’s.” Ticket sales benefit Alzheimer’s research. Visit aware.camp7.org for more information.
The Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado can answer questions about memory loss or support caring for a loved one with dementia. Call them at (800) 272-3900 or visit alz.org/co.
Check out barrypetersen.com for more information about “Jan’s Story.”