The Magnolia Tree Foundation offers annual scholarships to students at Hoffman Estates High School and Elk Grove High School to support them in furthering their education. The Magnolia Tree Foundation was the vision of Alexa Rodheim Cutler, a treasured wife, daughter, and sister. She was a devoted teacher and water polo coach at Elk Grove High School. Alexa passed away in March of 2016 after a courageous, two-year battle with triple negative breast cancer. She was 29 years old. During her treatment for breast cancer, Alexa learned that she carried the hereditary BRCA-1 genetic mutation. Every human has both BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. BRCA genes do not cause breast cancer. These genes normally play a big role in preventing breast cancer. If the gene becomes altered or broken, its ability to suppress tumor cells is impaired, significantly increasing the risk for breast, ovarian and other cancers. Alexa’s diagnosis lead to the discovery that other family members carried the same mutation allowing them the insight to be proactive regarding their health. Two of Alexa’s sisters have since had bilateral mastectomies at age 20 (reducing their chances for a breast cancer diagnosis to less than 1%), and will continue to undergo surveillance, along with Alexa’s two brothers, indefinitely. This discovery was a defining point of Alexa’s legacy.
Our most recent initiative is a partnership that we have formed with The Basser Center for BRCA out of Penn Medicine in Philadelphia. The Magnolia Tree Foundation has committed to a donation of $25,000 and established the Alexa Rodheim Cutler Fund for BRCA Education and Outreach. Alexa’s diagnosis allowed other family members to be tested and have the option to take appropriate measures to avoid a cancer diagnosis. The Basser Center for BRCA is the first comprehensive center for the research, treatment and prevention of BRCA related cancers. The Basser Center is committed to sharing knowledge and encouraging innovation on a global scale. Why is this relevant to our mission? As a passionate educator, Alexa would be proud to know that support from her foundation is part of an educational initiative which continuously reaches out to high risk communities, helps individuals become aware, get tested and understand the options available to them.
Alexa was a National Board Certified teacher of English, a Golden Apple top 20 finalist and earned a Those Who Excel Award of Excellence in the category of Early Career Educator from the Illinois State Board of Education, all achieved by age 28. She had a unique talent for inspiring students who were discouraged by academic demands, challenging family lives, and disadvantaged backgrounds. Students in her class were empowered and celebrated. Their struggles became her struggles. In her classroom, the fragile grew strong. It was no surprise when, faced with the struggle of her life, her students made her fight theirs, too. Rallying behind her with t-shirts, posters, cards and constant support, Alexa’s students gave their beloved teacher the faith and love she had poured into them. Alexa inspired her colleagues at Elk Grove High School with her relentless advocacy of the neediest students. In honor of her deep and genuine impact on the school community, The Magnolia Tree Foundation created the “Alexa Rodheim Cutler Memorial Scholarship”, awarding a $1000 scholarship annually to a student at Elk Grove High School, where Alexa taught, and to a student at Hoffman Estates High School, where she and her siblings attended high school.