Blaine educator dies after three-year battle with cancer

Published on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 by Kathy McGee

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In the three years since she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, Deb Cummings continually defied the odds.

It was not the cancer that took her life – she was in remission at the time – but a fungal infection in her lung, which then led to kidney failure. Cummings, a long-time Blaine educator, passed away peacefully on Friday, April 6, surrounded by the friends – and music – she loved.

“Once her kidneys shut down, we knew – and she knew – there was no way to recover,” said Denise Magnusson, her close friend and primary caregiver. “Friends and family gathered by her bedside, we told stories and listened to music.”

Ever the optimist, Cummings fought valiantly and was determined to beat her disease. “So many times they sent her home to die, and she always bounced back,” Magnusson said. “Her goal from the get-go was to beat this, to never let it get to her.” Others might refer to cancer as the “Big C,” but to Cummings it was the “little c.”

In March, Cummings was airlifted to a Seattle hospital. While her physicians and paramedics were concerned about her health, Cummings thought the adventure was “awesome.” One more thing to cross off her long bucket list – she rode in a helicopter!

That enthusiasm, even in the face of adversity, was how Cummings lived her life.

Originally from Michigan, Cummings began teaching in Coupeville in 1991 and became an elementary school teacher in Blaine in 1994. Two years later, she was hired as the school’s principal and remained in that role for 10 years. In 2006, she became the director of curriculum, assessment and instruction, until her medical leave in 2009.

 “Deb earned a reputation in Blaine and across the region as an outstanding educator and an extraordinary educational leader,” said Ron Spanjer, Blaine school district superintendent. “She was viewed by her colleagues as a leader who sought to make everyone better at the work of educating students – she was unselfish and unassuming. The needs of students always came first for Deb, and she did everything possible to ensure that all students had the most optimal of learning opportunities.”
Cummings had a warm and caring personality, and “more friends than anyone I have every known,” Spanjer said. “She had a knack for making others feel good about themselves, the things they have accomplished and the potential that they have to make an even greater difference in the future.”

Magnusson agrees. “Deb was always learning and always teaching,” she said. “She had so many friends in so many diverse circles. She could jump into any circle of life, feel a part of it, have a conversation.”

“We will miss Deb on so many different levels – as a colleague, as a friend and as an individual who had such a positive impact on teaching and learning in the Blaine school district,” Spanjer said.

“Deb was guided by great leaders and surrounded herself with amazing quotes that inspired her to be a great leader,” said Randy Elsbree, federal and special programs director for the Blaine school district, who was a colleague of Cummings for more than a decade.

Elsbree said one of her favorites was from Abraham Lincoln: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Cummings didn’t live to 103 as she planned (“just like Jiminy Cricket”), but she did have a lot of life in her 46 years.

Join Cummings’ many friends and family for a celebration of her life at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 14, in Blaine’s Performing Arts Center.