by KIM HILSENBECK
When Adell Hurst’s late husband, Coyett, went into hospice, she had no idea what it really was or why it was recommended by his pulmonary physician.
“I knew absolutely nothing,” Hurst said in a recent interview at her Kyle home. “But I can tell you I learned real quick.”
That was in September 2008.
Hurst, 79, and her daughter, Abby Hurst, one of Hurst’s six children, spoke about how hospice came into her home for her husband’s last three days of life.
“I had no idea what they would do when they came in, but suddenly, the word was out, my husband was on hospice – my home was filled with love. Just, love,” Hurst said.
She relayed how the Central Texas Medical Center (CTMC) Hospice of San Marcos, brought in a chaplain, a social worker, a nurse, a nursing assistant, a massage therapist and a bereavement counselor – who was particularly helpful for Hurst’s then 14-year-old grandson, who was devastated about losing his grandfather.
“They came in – they took care of everything we needed,” Hurst said.
Today, Hurst herself is in hospice.
“I have Stage 4 breast cancer,” she said.
Hurst went through radiation treatments four years ago for the same cancer and was told she was cancer free. But she wasn’t free for long.
This time, when her oncologist explained the chemotherapy treatment’s side effects and that it might not work at this advanced stage, she asked him a very pointed question.
“OK, I’m your mother. What would you have me do?”
Hurst said he recommended hospice and no further aggressive treatment.
After Coyett’s hospice experience, Hurst said she knew she wanted CTMC’s hospice this time around – and not just because her daughter works there now.
Abby Hurst decided she wanted to work for CTMC Hospice Care after her father died.
“I said, I’m going to work there if it’s the last thing I do,” she said, “and I was (working there) four months later.”
She is a community outreach specialist who helps bring the message of hospice to the masses.
Both Hurst women said many people don’t know what hospice is or how it can help families and patients alike. Abby said people think hospice is something that is just there in the last few hours of someone’s life.
“They think it’s a place to die,” Hurst said.
Why the misperceptions?
Abby thinks in part, some physicians don’t refer patients early enough to hospice care.
“They may think it’s like giving up on their patients,” she said. “But my father would have qualified for hospice months if not years earlier.”
Abby said CTMC Hospice Care, like many other organizations, helps improve a patient’s quality of life by controlling symptoms, managing pain and providing all the support, such as they did right before her father passed away.
“Hospice helps people make the best of what time they have left,” Abby said.
Across the room from where Adell is sitting stands an easel with an enlarged photo of her and her husband days before his passing. They are holding each other and smiling with looks of peace and comfort on their faces.
It was taken by a professional Buda-based photographer that donates his time and supplies to CTMC’s “Faces of Hospice” program. Patients receive high-quality photographs of themselves with loved ones at no cost.
“We also hang the photos in businesses and buildings around the county where more people can see them and start a conversation about hospice and what it is, what it can do and how it can help,” Abby said.
She said any business can request to hang the photos.
Adell Hurst said she now feels the same peace about facing her own mortality, thanks in large part to CTMC Hospice.
When asked what made her decide not to go for any other treatment, Hurst explained how her doctor described the chemo treatment.
“He said, ‘You will lose your hair, you will have sores in your mouth, you will be sick,’ and I didn’t want my family to see and remember me that way.”
Hurst said in early November, she decided, “why not?”
“Why hang around and be sick?” Hurst asked. “I have six children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren and they all love me dearly. But I did not want them to lose their grandmother when she was very, very sick. I wouldn’t want that at all.”
She continued, “I wanted to go as peacefully as possible. My son knelt beside my bed and said, ‘Are you scared?’ And I said, no. I’m scared of being sick. I’m scared of pain, but I’m not scared of dying. And I think that really helped him.”
Hurst said she isn’t just putting on a brave face for her family.
“I just am not afraid,” she said with steely determination. “I feel really fortunate to feel that way. Dying is a part of living – it all goes together.”
The Life of Adell Hurst
Looking back on her 79 years, Adell Hurst, a hospice patient with Stage 4 breast cancer, is proud of her life and at peace with dying.
She fondly recalled meeting her late husband, Coyett, who was in the Air Force and stationed in the Texas Panhandle. Only two months into nursing school, Hurst left to marry Coyett and never looked back.
That was more than 60 years ago.
Over his 20-year military career, Hurst was by his side raising a family, including two sets of twins, and moving from base to base.
“We lived in Donaldson in South Carolina, Biloxi, Mississippi, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts,” Hurst said.
“And he went to Southeast Asia and was in the Korean and Vietnam wars,” she said. “He was then stationed in Greenland.”
For a time, Hurst said, they lived as a family on Goose Bay, Labrador, off Canada’s eastern coast.
Hurst said her husband retired from the Air Force to become a computer systems analyst.
Meanwhile, she had always been active in volunteerism – a lesson instilled in her by her father, a farmer in the Panhandle, years earlier.
“We helped people out – that’s just what we did,” she recalled.
As a military wife, Hurst was on the ladies auxiliary at every base, helping families and soldiers with whatever they needed.
Once she and Coyett moved back to Texas, they settled in San Marcos, where he had been stationed back in 1954. Hurst then worked as a director of Family Planning – a career she had for the next 25 years.
“We had 16 clinics serving women in eight counties,” Hurst said. “Now, due to politics, the money is gone. They have three clinics now. They are not even close to serving the women.”
The disdain in her voice was clear.
When the Hursts moved to Lake LBJ, they enjoyed the beginning of their golden years. But as her husband’s health deteriorated, they decided to move to Kyle to be closer to their family.
Hurst again picked up her love of volunteerism, joining the boards of several local organizations including the Friends of the Kyle Library, Meals on Wheels and her church.
Looking back on her life, Hurst said she is at peace and knows she accomplished much. She also knows how fortunate she is to have lived to age 79 and have a large, loving family.
Now that she is in hospice and facing her final days, Hurst said her biggest wish was to see her grandson, who lives in California.
“And he came with his wife and 18-month-old baby,” Hurst said with a smile. “It was so special.”
CTMC Hospice’s Dream a Dream program made the trip possible. The program helps patients fulfill their last wish.
On the day after her interview with the Hays Free Press, Hurst was asked to attend a Kyle City Council meeting. While the reason wasn’t entirely clear to her, she knew it had something to do with her volunteer service to the community.
At that meeting, Mayor Lucy Johnson issued a proclamation that Dec. 18, 2012, was Adell Hurst Day.
Seems fitting for a woman who has given so many of her days to others.