BY LEANN DILBECK –
Betty Owens is a woman that has seen many joys and hardships in 80 years but remains focused on what defines her: faith and family. She moved to Mena from Northeast Arkansas in 1989 with her husband Chuck. The couple desired to be closer to their children, daughter Sherry Baker in Mena and son Donald Owens in Waldron. The Owens had been career educators, Chuck as an administrator and Betty a teacher. Not ready to retire, Betty began working as Program Coordinator at PCDC and Chuck at Rich Mountain Community College. The couple worked until they retired and then enjoyed the next 10 years doing motor coach and tours that took them to all 50 states.
In 2006, the couple learned that Chuck had cancer and Betty said in true Chuck fashion, he began getting all of their affairs in order. “I had never pumped my own gas… I had never mowed a yard. Chuck always took care of those things,” as Betty described the first year of trying to learn to live in a world without him. “It was such a hard year,” but not as tough as the next year she would face.
After 54 years of marriage, Chuck passed in January 2007, a year that Betty described as the most difficult year of her life. “We may have never had a lot of money,” Betty said, “but we always had a lot of love.” The next few months, Betty was grief stricken and said had it not been for the love and support of her family, friends and church family, she’s not sure how she would’ve made it. Her granddaughter, Betsy moved in with her for the first few months. “It’s hard to learn to live alone… but I eventually decided, ‘I got to do this myself.’”
Not long after that, Betty said Dr. Manis found a lump in her right breast that “he wasn’t pleased with.” She said she had had a lumpectomy four years earlier that was benign so she was in no way concerned, “I didn’t think a thing in the world about it… No one in my family had cancer.” She was scheduled for a mammogram in May, just a few short months after losing Chuck, and they confirmed that it was in fact breast cancer. “Cancer is such a nasty word.” She had a mastectomy on her right side and began chemo treatments. “After that first treatment, I thought ‘if this is the way it’s going to be, I can’t handle this’… I couldn’t even get out of the bed after the first one [treatment], really knocked the props out of me.”
While Betty said she questioned her ability to get through, she stayed surrounded by her devoted family and church family of Mena’s First Baptist Church, who never doubted her ability to get through. Betty had been raised as a “PK” (preacher’s kid), in her own words, and said it was her Christian upbringing and strong faith that carried her through such a trying time. Even today, as Betty is experiencing some issues with her heart, she said she finds her strength in her church family and God, “I don’t know how people survive if they don’t have that. Even now, I have to fight, I won’t say depression, but my pity pot.” Betty admitted it was very easy to feel as if everything was falling apart and question why God would take her husband and allow her to have cancer all so close together.
The loss of her husband and cancer certainly slowed her down but now that Betty is is almost 9 years cancer free, she is enjoying life and all that comes with it. She volunteered with Hospice from 2011-2013. She is again traveling and takes at least eight trips a year. She enjoys her four grown grandchildren and is proud to be quilting for each her five great-grandchildren.
Betty recently celebrated her 80th birthday. She explained her family was all ‘short-lived,’ “I didn’t think I’d ever live this long! I always told my kids if I ever made it to 80, I want a party!” And party they did… twice! The kids surprised her with two parties, one in Cherokee Village and another in Mena so that all her many friends and family had an opportunity to party with her.
Betty said her greatest joys in life have been her parents and being raised in a Christian home, knowing Chuck for 56 years, and her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her advice to others who hear the “nasty” cancer word? “Surrender your life over completely to God… let Him give you the directions and strength you’re going to need.”