After a two-year battle with laryngeal cancer, a beloved teacher in Pennsylvania has died. She leaves behind her loving parents, a sister, a community who adored her, and a heartfelt obituary she penned before her passing.
Ashley Ann Kuzma, of Conway, Pa., passed away on Sept. 22 at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, according to her online obituary. As one of the "many preparations to make the transition easier on her family," she wrote her own obituary, which encouraged others to "let go of the insignificant things and to just enjoy the people and places."
The 32-year-old McDowell Intermediate High School support teacher, who battled her cancer four times, admits that she had a lot of time "to think about death," and was able to provide one final lesson with her self-written obituary, which included a dose of humor.
"When you have recurrent laryngeal cancer that just won't take no for an answer, you have a lot of time to think about death," Kuzma wrote. "The good thing is I no longer have to worry about saving for retirement, paying off student loans, or trying not to get skin cancer."
According to GoErie.com, Kuzma was diagnosed with cancer in June 2017 after she experienced chronic throat pain, which made her voice go hoarse. In Pittsburgh, Kuzma underwent 29 radiation treatments. While the tumors initially went away, they returned in February 2018. The following month, the educator underwent a partial laryngectomy and, despite still using a feeding tube, was able to return to school for the last days in June.
In August of that year, a scan showed she had cancer of the salivary glands. Kuzma received a total laryngectomy, with 30 more radiation treatments and five chemotherapy treatments.
Kuzma — who made news after winning a seven-day cruise as part of Norwegian Cruise Line's Giving Joy campaign, in which friends and thankful students nominated her — wanted to continue teaching. Despite the loss of her vocal cords, Kuzma could speak softly by utilizing the prosthesis that covered the opening in her neck from her surgery.
In March 2019, she learned her cancer had returned. According to GoErie.com, Kuzma said that, at this point, her options were limited.
Kuzma, who loved to travel — having visited London, Paris, Poland, Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome in the past — decided to take a trip to Mexico and saw Chichén Itzá, the Mayan ruins in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.
Along with travel, Kuzma shared in her obituary that she enjoyed reading, cuddling with her cats, going wine tasting, cheering on the Steelers, and relaxing on her father's boat.
"I am extremely grateful for the life that I lived," Kuzma wrote. "I was fortunate to have a loving family, supportive friends, a stable and meaningful job, and a house to call my own. My wish for you is to stop letting insignificant situations stress you out. Do what is important to you. Relax and enjoy the company of those around you. What do you value in your life? In the end, that's what matters."
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