Beloved Elk Grove High School teacher dies of cancer

Alexa Rodheim-Cutler, a young, beloved teacher and coach at Elk Grove High School, died Friday after fighting breast cancer for two years.

Rodheim-Cutler, 29, was a 2004 graduate of Hoffman Estates High School and the oldest of six siblings. She taught English at Elk Grove for several years and also was the girl's water polo coach, said Principal Paul Kelly.

"I can't help but express how blessed and inspired I feel to have known and worked with Mrs. Rodheim-Cutler," Kelly said in a letter to parents and students. "Every single day, she embodied the Elk Grove High School spirit of challenge, support and patience for every student. She tirelessly embraced the sacred role of teacher and coach, pouring endless energy into profoundly shaping the future of each child she encountered in the classroom and in the athletic world."

During her time at Elk Grove, Rodheim-Cutler was named a recipient of the Illinois School Board of Education "Those Who Excel" Award. She also became a National Board Certified Teacher and was a Golden Apple Award Finalist.

"However, she did not care for one moment about individual honors; all she cared about was changing the lives of kids," Kelly wrote in his letter. "Watching her work with kids was a true pleasure. She combined a warm heart with a no-nonsense approach that students simply could not resist."

In a profile of Rodheim-Cutler published in the Daily Herald in October, she spoke about her cancer as another tool to teach her students compassion, empathy and other life lessons. She described herself as a survivor who, rather than fear what the future held, was enjoying every day she had left.

During most of her illness, Rodheim-Cutler would rarely miss school and practice because of treatments. One day her team surprised her with swim caps that read "We play for Rod."

She also organized schoolwide fundraisers for the American Cancer Society, raised awareness for her aggressive form of the disease called Triple Negative Breast Cancer, and encouraged other women in her life to get genetic testing that can reveal the BRCA gene that heightens the risk for breast and ovarian cancers.

Kelly called Rodheim-Cutler "one of the bravest, toughest fighters you've ever met."

"Alexa Rodheim-Cutler set an amazing example for us and for all of her students - an example of tenacity, strength, and empathy," he wrote. "She loved Elk Grove High School with all her heart, and we will forever love her in return."

Counselors from Elk Grove and other Northwest Suburban High School District 214 schools will be available for students and staff on Monday who may need to talk about the loss, Kelly said.

She is survived by her parents Steve and Dianna, her siblings Zach, Kendall, Aubrie, Connor and Hannah, as well as her husband, Sam Cutler, whom she married in June.

A memorial service for Rodheim-Cutler will be held at Elk Grove High School sometime in the next few weeks.

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Alexa Rodheim-Cutler, center, with her husband Sam, her siblings and parents at her June 2015 wedding. Rodheim-Cutler, a teacher at Elk Grove High School, died Friday after battling breast cancer for two years. Photo courtesy Rodheim family
Students made special swim caps supporting coach Alexa Rodheim-Cutler's fight against cancer. Rodheim-Cutler, 29, died on Friday after two years with a rare form of the disease. Courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez
Alexa Rodheim-Cutler, center, rarely missed a practice as Elk Grove High School's water polo coach, despite her ongoing fight with cancer. Courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez
  Elk Grove High School teacher Alexa Rodheim-Cutler died on Friday at 29. "Every single day, she embodied the Elk Grove High School spirit of challenge, support and patience for every student," Principal Paul Kelly said. Mark Welsh/
  Alexa Rodheim-Cutler and her students from left, Sabrina Sanchez, Emma Saluski, and Angel Ortiz, held a bake sale to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Bob Chwedyk/
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