Tiptoeing through the tulips

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 10, 2003

Cancer may have taken a huge toll on Betty Newman's body, but the disease has done nothing to diminish her fighting spirit and love for life.

The 61-year-old Irontonian has battled lung and skin cancer off and on since 1998, but her struggle has not stopped her from doing the things she enjoys most, such as writing, sewing, collecting clocks, walking and her most visible passion - flowers.

All year long, Newman keeps flowers growing in her yard, including hundreds of tulips currently blooming in shades of reds, yellows and whites. She also gives her loving care to roses, mums and violets. Her love for gardening won her the Residential Landscaping Award in 2000 from the Ohio Association of Gardeners Clubs.

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"I love the flowers," she said. "I think of the tulips as the start of spring and part of Easter."

Susie Taylor, Newman's sister, says it is just part of Betty's gift.

"She has got a green thumb, that is for sure," Taylor said.

Betty - "B.J." to her friends - attributes much of her success in battling the disease to God and her love for gardening and writing.

"When God calls me, then I will go home," she said. "For some reason he seems to keep me here. I don't know if it is to beautify the Earth or spoil my grandchildren, but we are a strong family. We fight back."

Family is something that Newman knows a lot about. Born in Proctorville, she comes from a family of 12 brothers and sisters.

Living in Ironton for the past 18 years, she and ex-husband Ralph Dean have raised a sizable family of their own. They have four children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"Ralph is still my right arm and my right hand," she said. "He has been with me every time something happened. My family and Ralph have brought me through this."

Since the disease was first detected, Betty has undergone chemotherapy

treatments and currently takes more than 14 different medicines each day.

In March, she got the news she had waited almost five years for - doctors can find no traces of cancer in her body.

"I do not know the words to tell you how it felt," she said. "I could not hardly believe it."

In addition to gardening, she uses the journalism skills she honed while earning an associate's degree at Ohio University Southern as a 50-year old student. To cope, she became a published author and still writes each and every day.

"My dad was a school teacher," she said. "He always stressed that you have to learn something each day. I walked through those doors at OUS and a calm came over me. I knew I was pleasing my dad, and no matter how long it took I would finish."

A few weeks ago, Betty had a setback, and credits Taylor with saving her life.

Her sister found her at home and her heart rate had dropped dangerously low and she was not getting oxygen to her brain because of an allergic reaction to some medication.

After rehabilitating at the hospital and with her family, Betty is back on her feet.

"I did not think she would ever be the same," her sister said. "But now she is back to her normal self, talking 90 miles an hour."

So, Betty Newman continues to live each day to its fullest, content to immerse herself in the things she enjoys.

"I just love life," she said. "Six months ago, I walked four miles every day. When I get better I will do it again. I am not afraid anymore. I am at ease and at peace."