Pennsylvania teacher cancer obit, Millcreek who won cruise has died.
Ashley Kuzma had battled laryngeal cancer for two years.
A McDowell Intermediate High School teacher, whose battle with laryngeal cancer gained local and worldwide attention as she won a cruise for teachers who demonstrate a passion for learning, has died after a two-year battle with the disease.
Ashley Kuzma, 32, died Sept. 22 at the Cleveland Clinic, according to her obituary, which Kuzma wrote before her death and was published Thursday in the Erie Times-News.
“One positive outcome from having recurrent cancer was that it taught me to let go of the insignificant things and to just enjoy the people and places,” Kuzma wrote. “After three recurrences, my body finally had enough, and I passed away ….”
Kuzma, a Beaver County native, first taught social studies in the Millcreek Township School District as a long-term substitute in 2012. She later accepted a job as a gifted support teacher in the Lancaster School District before returning to Millcreek in February 2017 to take a similar position at MIHS.
At the time, Kuzma was suffering from a chronic throat problem that made her voice progressively more hoars. An ear, nose and throat specialist in Erie discovered growths on Kuzma’s vocal cords. A biopsy was performed in June 2017 and the growths were malignant.
Kuzma underwent 29 radiation treatments at UPMC Shadyside in Pittsburgh. The tumors went away but returned in February 2018.
She underwent a partial laryngectomy in March 2018 and was able to return to MIHS for the final day of school in June despite still using a feeding tube. But a scan done in August 2018 showed cancer had returned and that it was mucoepidermoid carcinoma, a cancer of the salivary glands.
“That’s when I knew I needed the total laryngectomy,” Kuzma said in April. “I had it done in September (2018) at the Cleveland Clinic, along with 30 radiation and five chemotherapy treatments.”
Despite losing her vocal cords, Kuzma was determined to continue teaching. She returned to MIHS in mid-January and was able to speak softly by pressing against the prosthesis that covered the permanent opening in her neck from her surgery.
One of Kuzma’s friends entered her in a contest sponsored by Norwegian Cruise Line that offered free cruises for 30 teachers who demonstrate a passion for spreading the joy of learning. Kuzma was one of the teachers who received the most online votes and won a seven-day cruise.
Unfortunately, her cancer had returned in March and treatment options were limited, she said.
“After I found out my cancer was back for the fourth time, I went to Mexico and saw Chichen Itza (a complex of Mayan ruins),” Kuzma wrote in her obituary. “I am extremely grateful for the life that I lived. … My wish for you is to stop letting insignificant situations stress you out. Do what is important to you.”
Kuzma, who believed viewings were “too sad for everyone,” asked that her family host a celebration of life on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. at the Perry Hi-Way Hose Co., 8281 Oliver Road, Summit Township.