March 17, 2014 at 11:31 AM ET
Very few 80-year-old grandmothers wake up every morning asking about how many Instagram followers they gained overnight.
That’s what Grandma Betty does. The Indiana octogenarian has awoken with the photo-centric media account on her mind ever since her teenage great-grandson, Zach Belden, created it as a tribute to her following a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year. The account, GrandmaBetty33, has already gained more than 85,000 followers since its first post in January.
“It gives her something to look forward to every day,” Betty's granddaughter and Zach’s mom, Hope Belden, told TODAY.com on Monday. “She still asks every morning, ‘How many more friends do I have today?’”
Grandma Betty is a dancing fan, and her Instagram account includes videos of her swaying to Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration" once she reached 23,000 followers. She also can be seen swinging to “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams, who was one of Grandma Betty’s earliest followers.
Belden’s 18-year-old son, Zach, started the account after learning Betty had late-stage lung cancer and was too frail to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Currently a high school senior, he hated the idea that he would soon be leaving his great grandmother behind for college.
“He wanted to give her something that would make her happy and fight until there was no fight left. That was really important for him,” said Belden, whose grandparents have helped raised her two children since she returned to work when they were infants. Belden's grandfather passed away several years ago.
Zach kicked off the account with “Selfie Sunday” pictures, increasing his posts as demand grew from friends, who wanted to keep tabs on her.
“They love Grandma Betty. She’s been to many of their (band) performances and they absolutely love her,” Beldon said. “She would always get up and dance with the kids. And they just eat it up.”
Once word spread about the account, Grandma Betty began receiving comments of prayers and support from followers around the world, prompting Zach to set up a map keeping track of the locations, which include New Zealand, Iran, Sweden and South Korea. Yet, Grandma Betty really knew she was a global sensation when she saw her story mentioned Monday on TODAY.
“After watching it she said this morning, ‘Now that’s going to go all over the world,’” said Belden.
The Instagram account has helped provide Grandma Betty some cheer on days that are becoming increasingly more difficult and painful.
“Grandma tries to stay very positive about what’s going on and what she feels, because she feels bad most days. She has more bad days than good days lately,” Belden said.
The experience has uplifted the entire family, who have drawn strength from strangers.
“It’s one thing to hear from your family, but it’s another thing when anonymous people you’ve never met are thinking of your grandmother. It’s phenomenal there would be this much outpouring of love,” Belden said. “It’s also amazing they refer to as their grandma. I love it. I want to share her because she has so much to give.
“She’s always given the shirt off her back or the shoes off her feet,” Belden said. “For her to get that back from people — love, prayers, anything, that’s amazing. I can’t be more thankful.”