BEAR CREEK - Exactly one week after cancer claimed the 4-year-old life of Wyatt Spann in Winfield, the community of Bear Creek is mourning the loss while celebrating the life of Madison Chase Hulsey, a Phillips High School senior whose life was also taken by cancer at the tender age of 19.
Hulsey, described by students and faculty of Phillips Schools as a strong fighter against the disease, lost his life on Thursday, Jan. 23, at Children’s Hospital, Birmingham, leaving behind a life of love and compassion his classmates plan to emulate.
Hulsey, who was first diagnosed with the form of cancer known as Ewing Sarcoma when he was in the 6th grade in 2012, had been in remission before the cancer returned in 2016, with Hulsey fighting it with all he had. Ewing Sarcoma is a rare type of cancer occurring in bones and soft issue that is more common in teenagers and young adults, yet can occur at any age.
After about four years in remission, Hulsey found out the cancer had come back in 2016, spreading from his shoulder to his lungs and eventually to his liver and kidney, family and friends said.
His death occurred just a few months shy of his high school senior trip and graduation, as students are preparing to honor his strong legacy through a variety of visual forms, most recently by wearing buttons that read, “My Hero is Now My Angel”.
PHS Bookkeeper Wynndy Sampson found herself cutting out these buttons for students to wear, as word got out among the study body Friday morning about Hulsey’s death. Many PHS students lined up in her office anxiously waiting for their buttons.
“Chase was a happy, wonderful child who never had anything but a smile on his face,” Sampson proudly stated as students were coming into her office for their own personal Chase buttons.
Seventh grade students Sandra Berry and Lily Hyde were among the first students who came to the office to get their own personal Chase buttons.
“It’s just a way of showing we care about him,” Hyde said.
“He was a really nice person, I’ve heard from a lot of people that he never stopped
smiling. He was always happy,” Berry added.
A major lesson Berry has learned from Chase’s life is to live life the best way and in the proper manner, knowing life’s end could come at any time.
“He would come in two or three times a week, sit down and just talk to me in the mornings,” Sampson added. “He just enjoyed people. He enjoyed being at school. He loved school. He’s a very special child.”
Sampson recalled Chase always had a positive outlook on life, no matter how he was struggling or suffering with his own health.
“He has really been battling it hard this past year,” Sampson said.
Although Hulsey may not have been physically able to play sports, he left his mark in other more meaningful ways, teaching his fellow students and adults alike the true meaning of life.
“To enjoy each day and be thankful for being here,” Sampson said she has learned from Chase’s example.
Although cancer kept Hulsey from playing sports, he was one of the biggest Phillips Bears fans around, school officials said. In fact, he was the manager for the high school football team.
“He didn’t have to participate to be involved,” Sampson pointed out. “He loved anything and everything about our school.”
Chase touched many lives in a special way. “He always had a hug for you,” she noted. “You would think you would need to bring him up, but he always brought us up. He made us feel better for being here. You always felt better after talking with Chase.”
Chase’s death meant additional counseling on campus Friday, Jan. 24. Monica Allen, who is counselor at both the elementary and high school, met with Chase’s classmates the morning after his death.
Allen has known Chase since he was at the elementary school, when he would have to take different stages of more aggressive chemo.
At one point, he even went to Cleveland, Ohio, seeking an experimental chemo, Allen recalled.
“Chase was a happy person,” she said. “There were days when he did not feel like being at school, but he came. He didn’t miss any school unless he was going to get scans or unless he was just really, really sick.”
Even in the advanced stages of his cancer, Chase did not miss much school.
“He was at school even on days when I couldn’t have made it,” Allen said. “It was hard for him to get up and down out of his desk, but he still came. He liked life. He liked being around people...He focused on the other person and not himself.”
Sometimes Allen would ask Chase why he didn’t go home on those bad days. He would respond that if he went home, it was like he was giving up, she said.
“He would come and talk to me a lot about life, how he was feeling, what he wanted,” Allen said. “He was more mature than a lot of kids his age because he had been through a lot, and he had thoughts on life that other kids don’t have.”
In these conversations, Chase would tell her about his younger siblings, worrying about them and making sure they would be taken care of after he was gone.
Allen advised Chase to take care of them at that time while he was able and to leave them with good memories, not to have any regrets.
“The last day I saw him was on Thursday (Jan. 16), before he had his scans on Friday,” Allen said. “He stayed in my office most of the day. He just slept on the couch.
“He told me, ‘I am really tired. I just wish this was done,’” Allen recalled.
PHS gave Chase’s life more meaning, as he would seek solace there among his peers and the environment in general.
Chase was known to give a word of comfort or a hug of encouragement to others who may not have been having the best of days, school officials said.
“The kids liked him, and he liked everybody and wanted to be with them while he could,” Allen noted.
After Chase’s death, Allen’s role as counselor was expanded to include more students, as she explained to them that Chase would not want them to grieve for him, but celebrate his life.
“I just let them talk because mostly they want to talk about him,” said Allen. “I’m here to guide them and help them know that Chase did all he could, and he would not want them to be sad that he was gone. He would want them to carry on.”
Seniors who were close to him looked back at how he had affected their lives. Some of his classmates were so emotional they could not attend school the day following Chase’s death.
The school’s social media hashtag #Team Chase has been adopted by the entire school.
Students and staff were wearing Team Chase T-shirts with the Holy Bible scripture Psalm 30:2 on the back, reading, “O Lord my God, I call to you for help and You healed me.”
The shirts, which were made several years ago, during his lengthy battle with cancer, were sold to help raise money for Chase’s family for medical and related expenses.
Some of Chase’s classmates who knew him best have learned some valuable lessons from their friend.
“He was the type of person who cared about everybody,” fellow classmate Madison Thrasher said. “He would do anything for anybody, no matter how hard it was.”
Nick Loveless said he and Chase hung out every day in school, dating back to their younger years at elementary school.
“He has always been a good friend to me,” he said.
Chase’s bouts with cancer deeply affected Loveless.
“I was trying to cope with it myself, thinking, accepting my friend might be gone, that he might end up passing away from this,” he said.
“He wanted to be treated like nothing was wrong,” Loveless added. “He told everybody, ‘Don’t treat me like I’ve got cancer. Treat me like a normal kid. If I do something wrong, I want to get in trouble for it. I don’t want to be treated special because of it.”’
Classmate Camron Kelley admitted that he and Chase didn’t always get along when they first met.
“There were times I wanted to fight him, but that was before I knew anything,” Kelley noted. “He and I started to hang out and became friends. I saw that through thick and thin, no matter what’s going on, to become friends through whatever problems you have, and the past is the past.
“First impressions don’t mean everything,” Kelley continued.
“I do have a regret,” Kelley continued. “I wish I would have hung out with him a little more than I did.”
Classmate Devin Mann added, “He didn’t care what he went through. He still put people first.
“When I was going through my brother’s death, he helped me through it,” Mann said. “He was there constantly for me.”
Reba Hill, Chase’s homebound teacher after he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2012 until his death, noted the aggressive chemo would make Chase so sick, yet he was always happy and wanted to be helpful.
“There was not a day I went in that he didn’t hug my neck and tell me he loved me,” Hill recalled. “The morning he got so sick, he text me and told me he loved me.”
Chase’s great-aunt Diane Hulsey noted that Chase was a loving child his entire life. During the last days of his life, Chase would come to school when he obviously was sick.
“He was holding the wall going to the lunchroom,” Hulsey recalled. “He kept on going. He stayed here the whole day.
“He had missed so much school and got so far behind, but was determined to graduate,” Diane added.
PHS Principal Dr. Al Temple recalled he began his tenure at PHS, around the time Chase was coming back to school while struggling with his sickness.
“He loved this school. I think that is the biggest thing people need to understand,” Temple said.
“He was the kind of kid, that even though he felt bad, he was going to get up and go,” Temple added. “He fought every day....With everything he faced, he tried not to let that get him down.
“When I talked to him on the phone Friday night while he was in the hospital, he asked how my family was doing,” he pointed out. “He believed in taking care of other people. He always thought of other people before himself.”
The loss of Chase has been felt through the entire community, as town employees were busy putting up yellow ribbons in memory of Chase throughout the town, as well as large memorial banners.
“On behalf of the Town of Bear Creek, I would like to extend our heartfelt and deepest sympathy to the family of Chase Hulsey,” Bear Creek Mayor Tammie Batchelor stated.
“Chase was such a precious young man with a heart filled with so much love for life and others,” Batchelor added. “Chase was always full of life, laughter and kindness. He was the kind of person that once you met him, you never forgot him, and he never forgot you.
“His smile was infectious,” Batchelor continued. “He was a very special young man who touched the lives of so many and will be greatly missed.”
Chase was also employed at Piggly Wiggly in Haleyville and was a member of Grace Baptist Church.
Chase’s funeral was held Monday, Jan. 27, at Bear Creek #1 Baptist Church, with Richard Crumpton officiating. Burial was in New Hope Cemetery. Memorial Funeral Home of Guin handled arrangements.
Chase was preceded in death by his grandmother, Ethelene Cantrell.
Survivors include his parents Angie (Ken) Pickard, of Bear Creek and Paul (Donna) Hulsey, of Haleyville; brothers and sisters, Solon Hulsey, Alecus Hulsey, Aydian Hulsey, Ethan Pickard and Allie Grace Pickard and grandparents, Paul David Hulsey, Janice Ruth Hulsey, Leila Pickard and Donnie Cosby, all of Haleyville.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.