Hospice gives elementary principal tender, loving care

Family-friendly event Aug. 7 in Bismarck, N.D., will help those facing the end of life.

By: Kay Todd .

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During her 54 years, Terry Kuester touched a tremendous number of lives without even realizing it.

She was a wife, mother, grandmother, and for nearly three decades, a beloved elementary school teacher and principal.

“Terry never understood what kind of impact she made on people,” said her husband, Todd Kuester. “Her whole life was dedicated to children. She was a very giving and loving person who always looked out for kids.”

In the final days of Terry’s life, after a long battle against brain cancer, her family wanted to surround her with the same love and attention she had always given so freely to others. Sanford Hospice helped the Kuesters give Terry the gift of peace and comfort in her own home.

“The tender, loving care our hospice caregivers gave not just to Terry but our entire family was outstanding,” Todd said.

Bonus time

Todd and Terry were married for 35 years, having met in high school in Williston, North Dakota. Todd played football, and Terry was a cheerleader.

“When I met Terry, it was over for me,” Todd said. “We were high school sweethearts, still are as far as I’m concerned.”

Todd and Terry had four children -– Cassandra, who passed away at 2 weeks old, Brooks, Brittany and Cole -– and a 5-year-old granddaughter, Grace.

They lived in Terry’s dream home, a beautiful two-story white house in the country north of Bismarck, North Dakota. Terry enjoyed sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch, looking out across the North Dakota prairie, and taking morning walks.

On a morning in November 2015, Todd and Terry were walking their dogs when Terry had her first seizure.

A few weeks later and following many tests, she was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma — the same brain cancer Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain is currently battling. Long-term survival with the disease is rare, but Terry and Todd remained hopeful.

Terry underwent brain surgery to remove a golf ball-sized tumor and shortly after started chemotherapy. She resigned her position as principal of Liberty Elementary School, fully intending to return to her work one day.

For the next year-and-a-half, that seemed like a possibility. She felt well and lived fully, even traveling to Hawaii.

A few times a week, Terry would visit the kindergarten class taught by her daughter, Brittany. She loved working with the students and reading to them.

“Our bonus year is what I call it,” Todd said.

About two years after her initial diagnosis, the tumor returned. Terry again underwent chemotherapy and tried several treatments. Despite everything, the tumor continued to grow, paralyzing Terry’s left side.

Tender care

In March 2018, Terry decided to stop fighting the disease and enter hospice care. She proposed a full-time care facility, but Todd refused. He wanted Terry to be in the house she loved.

Sanford Hospice made caring for Terry at home feasible. Hospice provides emotional and spiritual support 24/7 for patients and their families and focuses on improving quality of life.

“I can never repay our hospice caregivers for the tender care they gave her,” Todd said. “They were wonderful and did everything they could to help us. Terry loved them and really opened up to them.”

With Terry’s medical needs taken care of, Todd and his children could cherish their remaining time with their wife and mother. When Terry took her last breaths, Todd was by her side.

“Our hospice nurse told me what to expect,” Todd remembered. “It happened exactly as she said, so I knew when the end was near. I told Terry it was OK, that I would take care of our family. She just laid her head on my shoulder and went to be with Jesus.

“I was blessed to be able to be there. Hospice made that possible.”

Community support

Sanford Hospice depends on the community’s generous spirit to serve patients and families across the region. People can show their support by taking part in the third annual Go Hawaiian for Hospice Luau on Aug. 7 in Bismarck. Last year, more than $67,000 was raised.

For a suggested donation of $5, attendees can feast on a pig roast, baked potato, fresh pineapple, Hawaiian Punch and a frozen treat. In addition to delicious food, the event will feature fun, family-friendly games and other activities.

A memorial wall honoring the life of Terry Kuester will also be featured at the event.

“Why should community members support Sanford Hospice? Maybe a better question is why shouldn’t they,” Todd said. “We are all going to go through a time in our lives where we go from this life to the next.

“We all think, ‘that’s not going to happen to me.’ I certainly never thought my wife would die at age 54. You just never know.”

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