A Pennsylvania teacher who wrote her own obituary before dying of cancer at age 32 has a message for how people should live their lives.
“My wish for you is to stop letting insignificant situations stress you out,” Ashley Kuzma wrote in her obituary published last week in the Erie Times. “Do what is important to you. Relax and enjoy the company of those around you.”
“What do you value in your life?,” she wrote. “In the end, that's what matters.”
Kuzma passed away on Sept. 22 after a recurrence of laryngeal cancer. She was first diagnosed with cancer in February 2017, according to her mom Vicky Kuzma.
Her family did not know she had written her own obituary until a few days after her death when they discovered it on her Google drive.
'When we found it we were like, ‘What do we do?,' and I said, 'She wrote this. We have to publish this," Vicky Kuzma told "Good Morning America." "This is her last message to us, how could we not?"
In addition to her own obituary, Kuzma's family also found videos she had left behind of her singing happy birthday to her mom, her dad John and her younger sister Kristen.
"She was always so organized and so prepared," said Vicky Kuzma. "When she was diagnosed and had started going through all of this, one of the things she told me and her dad was, 'I always thought if someone in our family had to get cancer it should be me because I’d be the strongest to handle it.'"
Kuzma was a gifted support teacher at a high school in Erie County, according to her obituary.
“In my spare time, I enjoyed reading, cuddling with my cats, wine tasting, relaxing on my dad's boat, watching movies, golfing, decorating my house, watching football (go Steelers!), appreciating a good sunset, and watching TV shows like Grey's Anatomy, the original Will and Grace, and Friends,” she wrote about her hobbies outside of work.
Kuzma found some humor in her battle against cancer, writing, "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. 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???"
Turning more serious, she added, "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."
When Kuzma found out her cancer had returned, she wrote that she traveled to Mexico and saw Chichén Itzá, an ancient Maya city.
"I am extremely grateful for the life that I lived," she wrote. "I was fortunate to have a loving family, supportive friends, a stable and meaningful job, and a house to call my own."
Vicky Kuzma said she watched her daughter's outlook on life change when she was diagnosed with cancer.
"She was intense and so is her dad and I think that’s why they got along so well. They were the best of buds," she said. "When she found out she had cancer, she started letting a lot of things go and was like, 'Dad you have to chill. You just can’t let these things upset you.'"
Besides knowing how to live life, Kuzma also knew how she wanted to be remembered.
She asked that her family host a celebration of life "since I think viewings are too sad for everyone."
She also asked that in lieu of flowers, her friends and family send donations to two animal-focused charities and Hope Lodge, a home for cancer patients and their caregivers in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Kuzma family is planning to celebrate their daughter's life on Sunday with a party that will forgo the traditional black funeral clothes and include "a lot of good friends and family and food and drink to toast to her life," according to Vicky Kuzma.
Of all the preparations that Kuzma left for her mom, dad and sister, exact details on how to handle her celebration of life were not among them.
"She was always my party planner and organizer who helped me with planning the holidays and everything so I’m a little lost," said Vicky Kuzma. "I just hope I don’t let her down."