Longtime calculus teacher dies from complications with cancer

AP calculus teacher Sarah Cypher died from her struggle with non-smoking lung cancer Nov. 17.

Former AP calculus teacher Sarah Cypher posing for her 2013-2014 school year staff and yearbook photo.

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Former AP calculus teacher Sarah Cypher posing for her 2013-2014 school year staff and yearbook photo.


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When the 7:33 a.m. warning bell would ring, a teacher would step outside the door of her classroom and prepare to shake the hands of her students. Her job as a second mom would begin, and her goal to know all of her students on a personal level would always be accomplished.

This woman, Emerald Ridge’s former AP Calculus teacher Sarah Cypher, passed away Nov. 17 after her nearly year long struggle with non-smoking lung cancer, leaving behind two children, a loving husband, thousands of fond memories and hundreds of touched students and staff members.

“Before I would go to class, I would go shake [Cypher’s] hand because she was out there [in the hallway],” senior and Cypher’s former advisory student Joey Clark said. “I would try sneaking into her class and she’d be like ‘what are you doing here?’ I would be like ‘I didn’t think you’d catch me’ and she’d be like ‘you do this everyday.’ I just shook her hand five times a day.”

Cypher was diagnosed with ALK strand non-small cell lung cancer Mar. 14 in her lower right lung. Anaplastic lymphoma kinase is a defect in genetics that leads to the development of lung cancers.

As previously reported in the May 6 edition of JagWire, Cypher’s oncologist Dr. Blau said that about three percent of people in Cypher’s age group test positive for the gene.

Cypher started chemotherapy April 3, along with the oral drug Xalkori, but the fight for her life continued.

“She’s one of the strongest people I’ve met, and she’s really influential to me because even when she was sick, I would text her and just talk to her and she’d be like ‘oh, how’s this going’ and ‘you guys should come over and have dinner with me and my family,’” senior and Cypher’s former advisory student Hope Jones said.

Jones said that Cypher always focused on her family, her students, her advisory and her friends at ER.

“She always seemed to, when she was sick, downplay it as much as possible,” senior and Cypher’s former advisory student Connor Bates said. “She tried to make sure that other people were doing well, and not just her.”

Throughout the year ER staff and students held fundraisers to support Cypher and her family financially. Fundraisers included a Miracle Minute money gathering event during advisory, various auctions for Cypher cups and mugs, t-shirt sales, a Run for Cypher 5k, an auction and dinner night at the Ram, a spaghetti feed and more. In addition, all proceeds from the Nov. 26 Hypokritz comedy show will go to Cypher’s family.


Fighter pilots share their support for Sarah Cypher over Whidbey Island, Wash.

For the 2014-2015 school year Cypher transferred to Stahl Junior High school to teach eighth grade math because she needed full medical insurance to help pay for her medical expenses. To get this medical coverage she needed a full-time, five period teaching position. ER was able to offer her the coverage because two staff members reduced their coverage, but it could not be guaranteed for the next school year. Stahl could guarantee the medical coverage long-term.

On the day following her death, Nov. 18, an ERHS staff meeting was held in the library at 7:30 a.m. to announce Cypher’s passing. Staff members were given a note to read to their first period students, and the news was received with much grieving around the school.

The letter read “It is with a heavy heart that we report the death of one of our former staff members, colleagues and good friend. Sarah Cypher, an amazing high school math teacher at Emerald Ridge, and current 8th grade math teacher at Stahl passed away last night due to complications from her recent illness. She will be greatly missed by family, students and staff who knew her.”

Both ER and Stahl made counselors and staff members available to speak with grieving staff and students throughout the day. Some staff members were unable to teach their classes that day and other staff members stepped in to sub or to assist them.

Many students and staff that received the information the day before wore their Team Cypher shirts.

ERHS staff members share their support for Cypher by wearing Team Cypher t-shirts.

Contributed by: Christina Grabski
ERHS staff members share their support for Cypher by wearing Team Cypher t-shirts.

Cypher leaves behind many memories and stories with her senior advisory family, which has now found a new home with psychology teacher Seamus O’Reily.

One time in 2013, Cypher took her advisory students down to the pond just across the street from ER and Glacier View Junior High for a short walk. During the walk her advisory students found a snake.

“It was Houston [King], [he] grabbed a snake and threw it at Emily [Scharton] and Anna and then they put it in Mrs. Cypher’s face and she was trying to be calm, but you knew she was like, ‘Get that out of my face,’” Jones said.

Cypher also had a hatred towards the smell of popcorn, but she allowed her advisory students to pop it during class.

“I burned [the popcorn] once and she got so angry with me. She’s like, ‘Get it out of here. Go throw this away outside,’” Jones said. “So I ran around outside the whole school looking for a trashcan outside, and when I came back she was like, ‘No more popcorn for you.’”

Cypher was like a mom to many of her students because of how much she cared about them.

“She just really cared about all of her students and really believed in all of us and tried to make us feel comfortable, but at the same time she wasn’t afraid to give us tough love when we needed it,” senior and Cypher’s former advisory student Bailey Salsgiver said. “She was just really sweet and funny. She could make anyone laugh.”

Cypher’s former advisory students believe that O’Reilly is the best advisor they could have gotten after her transfer to Stahl.

“He was really helpful on Tuesday, and he was just kind of like, ‘You know guys, we’re all here for you,’” Jones said. “He made us feel very comfortable, and we stayed in there yesterday and Tuesday, and it was really nice to have that support from him as well.”

Cypher’s celebration of life memorial service and reception was scheduled for 4 p.m. Nov. 21 at Calvary Community Church in Sumner, Wash.

“I’m really sad for those people that didn’t get to meet her, or have a chance to get to know her, or to have her as a teacher,” Jones said. “She was a blessing to all of us.”

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