Elk Grove High School teacher remembered for love, strength

 
 
Updated 4/1/2016 9:58 PM
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  • Zach Rodheim -- brother of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer -- smiles as he talks about his sister as he is joined by his brother and other sisters, Connor, Kendall, Hannah and Aubrie, during the memorial for her at Elk Grove High School on Friday.

      Zach Rodheim -- brother of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer -- smiles as he talks about his sister as he is joined by his brother and other sisters, Connor, Kendall, Hannah and Aubrie, during the memorial for her at Elk Grove High School on Friday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Dianna and Steve Rodheim -- parents of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer -- sits next to Alexa's brother Zach and his fiancee Kelsey Johnson during the memorial for her at Elk Grove High School on Friday.

      Dianna and Steve Rodheim -- parents of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer -- sits next to Alexa's brother Zach and his fiancee Kelsey Johnson during the memorial for her at Elk Grove High School on Friday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Connor Rodheim -- brother of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer -- hugs his sisters Kendall and Hannah at Alexa's memorial on Friday.

      Connor Rodheim -- brother of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer -- hugs his sisters Kendall and Hannah at Alexa's memorial on Friday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Friends and family come together Friday and are saddened by the passing of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer.

      Friends and family come together Friday and are saddened by the passing of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Steve Rodheim -- father of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer -- sits next to Alexa's brother Zach as he reaches out to his sister during the memorial for her at Elk Grove High School on Friday.

      Steve Rodheim -- father of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer -- sits next to Alexa's brother Zach as he reaches out to his sister during the memorial for her at Elk Grove High School on Friday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Friends and family attend a tribute for Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer.

      Friends and family attend a tribute for Alexa Rodheim Cutler, who was a teacher at Elk Grove High School and died of breast cancer. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Alexa Rodheim Cutler loved Elk Grove High School. On Friday night, Elk Grove High School loved her back.

As nearly 1,000 staff, students, friends and family members gathered to celebrate the life of the 29-year-old English teacher who died on March 11, the school's gymnasium was filled with as much joy as it was sadness.

"Alexa was a gift," her mother-in-law, Kristie Yoder, said. "There was so much to her life; so much joy, so much motivation, so much passion."

Rodheim Cutler fought triple negative breast cancer for two years before her passing, but as several friends and students said on Friday, she did not lose her battle.

"The battle might have ended, but Alexa was never defeated," teacher Kristen Guth said of her friend, who continued teaching until just weeks before her death and was open with her students about her diagnosis to teach them lessons of compassion and strength.

Rodheim Cutler was remembered as a loving daughter and big sister to five younger siblings, a lover of music new and old, a fighter in the boxing ring and in life, a coach to her colleagues and the Elk Grove girl's water polo team, and a woman who was born to teach.

Her husband, Sam Cutler, said he tries to not despair at the loss of his young wife but find solace in the time they had together. The two were married last June after a few months of dating, but they spent their time writing and singing music together, raising their two cats and focusing on the quality of their days rather than the quantity.

"I found comfort in knowing I brought her comfort," he said.

Strong, brave, formidable, courageous were all words used to sum up Rodheim Cutler.

Her strength was reflected in her love for magnolia trees, which she first saw during a college volunteer trip to help clean up New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, said her brother Zach Rodheim.

She saw that amid all the destruction, there was beauty in the magnolia trees that continued to stand strong.

Rodheim Cutler's family has started The Magnolia Tree Foundation in her memory, with a mission to educate and provide financial assistance to those affected by the BRCA genetic mutation that puts some women at a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers. During her own cancer treatment, Rodheim Cutler encouraged her family members to be tested for the BRCA gene, which led one of her sisters to discover she has it, and became an advocate for others with her rare form of the disease.

In school, Rodheim Cutler was an inspiration.

When students were asked on video what they learned from Rodheim Cutler, the answers were not about sentence structure or grammar, though she was an English teacher.

"To become a better person." "To believe in myself." "To never give up," students said.

Guth told the crowd Rodheim Cutler will never really leave the many people she touched.

"Thank you for everything you taught us about courage," she said. "You will never stop inspiring us, and we will never stop learning from you."

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