It was nearly four years ago that Joyce Bettinger, a survivor of terminal brain cancer, entered ‘Deer Creek of Wimberley’ and embraced it as her permanent community. I came to know Joyce during our weekly art class. She looks forward to this time of creative focus and social exchange with sincere dedication, but also as a significant promoter of its success as an activity in the nursing home’s infrastructure.
As a member and [former] president of the Residents Council, Bettinger meets and befriends every new resident, an advocate for anyone who needs an advocate; always speaking up, even though brain surgery has affected her vocal chords and partially paralyzed her abilities to take care of herself. She makes calls to residents who are sent to the hospital and checks the suggestion box daily. Tim Jones, a resident challenged by Parkinson’s and diabetes, shares a table with Joyce at the cafe. He is grateful for her insight and observance of other diners who need help with things as simple as cutting meat. He said that she takes care of communicating problems residents may be too proud to mention to staff, an important friend to have indeed.
Bettinger says that her outlook is based on faith that God still wants her to live for a reason. Therefore, her daily agenda is to maintain a positive attitude, spill healthy tears when the heart feels deeply, challenge herself with numerous activities, secure her turf, and continue to look after others with the same attitude of caring held during her former 25 year nursing career.
Donna Bridges, Assistant Activities Director at Deer Creek, testifies that, “Joyce is an inspiring example of courage in her response to health challenges.” Activities motivate folks to make friends, wherever they are, if they are to find meaning and joy—even if a successful life does a mighty backflip as shocking as Bettinger’s.
Born Joyce Fay Blackburn, she was the only girl among six brothers raised on a truck farm in Blanco, Texas. The family worked hard on the farm from sun-up to sun-down and sold their vegetables in San Antonio. At age 18, Joyce married the future father of her two boys and two girls, moving away to Indiana. However, the Indiana transplant proved too cold for long endurance, so she returned to the Texas Hill Country and commenced her journey into nursing at a nursing school in Fredericksburg. Her lengthy career included training in critical care, intensive care, and dialysis, serving patients in nursing homes and hospitals in central Texas.
Bettinger was ultimately appointed as executive in charge of family care for Texas Home Health. The scope of her attention was given to eight counties with 1300 residents in need of home-based assistance. Bettinger commented that she had a lovely office in Austin with a beautiful view... and never had a chance to look out the window.
It was at this time that her first symptoms erupted and, needless to say, were construed as a stress headache. However, the head pain continued and intensified to a level that literally had her “bouncing off the walls” at work. One day while swimming her daily laps, she hit her head on the side of the pool and became so sick that she was rushed to the emergency room where an x-ray revealed a brain tumor near the skull. The star -shaped tumor was diagnosed as brain cancer with a prognosis of 2-3 weeks to live— if not immediately combated. Bettinger was 44 and she wanted to die.
The doctor told Bettinger that he couldn’t let her die. He said if anyone could overcome this challenge, it would be with the kind of strength and fortitude she possessed. It was 1992 when Joyce put herself in “God’s hands” and agreed to follow through with a total of five brain surgeries and 39 radiations.
Eighteen years later, this is the intelligent and talented woman I look forward to seeing and feel privileged to paint with during my weekly art session. She makes a real life at Deer Creek and is a living example of how reaching out to personally regard one another in a thoughtful way is what makes a life genuine.