Mary Ann, 74  and Jack Hession, 74 at their home in Tinley Park.

Mary Ann, 74 and Jack Hession, 74 at their home in Tinley Park. (Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)

"You have to be in charge of yourself and figure out what you want," she says. "And whether it's the right decision or the wrong decision it has to be your decision."

That "take charge" attitude has served Mary Ann well — even helping the Hessions buy their first home.

"Jack was in the hospital getting back surgery, so I went to look at this house that was for sale," she says. "It was '(for sale) by owner' and they had to move to Arizona because of their son's health. … I really liked it and they wanted out. So they said, 'Would you give us a down payment for this? How much do you have?' And I said, 'Four dollars.' This was 1964. So I gave them four dollars and that was that. I went to the hospital that night and said 'I got a house' and he's flat on his back and he says, 'What?' The next day the doctor came in and said, 'What did you do to him? He's so happy!'"

"She picked a good house," Jack adds. "We lived there for 36 years."

Trust and a sense of humor are the glue that keeps their marriage strong, they both agree. Being able to laugh has been mandatory too, considering the health challenges that have come their way. Jack faced back injuries brought on by the spina bifida he had as an infant and Mary Ann beat Stage IV breast cancer 20 years ago, all to have her cancer return in the uterus in 2009. But her positive outlook is unwavering.

"After I got diagnosed the first time with the breast cancer, I would volunteer for others who have breast cancer," she says. "There are so many people who are fighting this by themselves — they just don't have the support system that you need to get through this. I get chemotherapy now so I may be cranky at times, but I am so lucky because I have this incredible support system of family and friends."

Both Jack and Mary Ann say being retired has helped them discover new passions, especially with their grandchildren.

"After I stopped working, I baby-sat for my grandson and I lost 17 pounds chasing him around," Jack says. "Then she retires, and takes my job as baby sitter, and I put that 17 pounds back on."

These days, when the Tinley Park couple aren't attached at the hip, Jack golfs on Wednesdays (weather permitting) and Mary Ann spends as much time as possible with family and friends or reading books.

"And we're 75 now. Well, I'll be 75 in November," he says.

"I'm already 75," Mary Ann says.

"She's my cougar!"

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter @jenweigel