Men’s Health Week 2020
by Kieran Barry
According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, second in line only to lung cancer. This week, the American Cancer Society celebrates Men’s Health Week, encouraging men to get screened, become aware of any genetic predispositions, and practice healthy habits.
Dr. Jim Wortman, an Assistant Superintendent in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania, is one of the 1 in 9 men that are diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes. Dr. Wortman has served in the education sector for years, completing his Doctorate of Education and Educational Leadership in 2017, teaching as an Adjunct Professor at Gannon University and serving as a Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership Facilitator in addition to his position in the central office. To honor Men’s Health Week this year, we interviewed Dr. Wortman to discuss cancer, treatment, and finding support within the workplace.
When asked about the biggest challenge presented to teachers and administrators battling cancer, Wortman responded “The education profession has a ‘serving others’ focus. Inevitably, a cancer diagnosis requires one to ‘focus inward’ to a much greater degree than is typical and comfortable. So questions arise as to how to balance this need to focus on yourself AND, at the same time, be effective with all that is required of an education professional.” This need to focus inward causes teachers to rely heavily on their support systems. Despite the differences between each school community, it is imperative that every community surround their teachers in need so that their valuable lessons continue to be taught to each student.
While teachers battling cancer must change their serving mentality to one more inwardly focused, their journey leaves lasting impacts on their teaching philosophy. Dr. Wortman says that personal experiences with cancer affect life’s messages and lessons, whether they be what you get or what you are giving. He stated “The intensity increases on both accounts. You see, feel, hear, and listen better as a result of having to face potential life limitations and loss with so many things you can easily take for granted.” This life experience alters the message teachers give, offering their students lessons about more than just math and science. Further, these teacher’s personal experiences enable them to connect on a deeper level with their students as time in the classroom becomes increasingly cherished.
To part, Dr. Wortman left us with his words of advice to take into our everyday lives. He said, “It’s okay to lean on family and friends and to own your own vulnerability. The world is full of kind, caring, and giving individuals just looking for a way to help. But, you have to come to terms with BEING helped. We’ll all take a turn at giving and receiving. Be prepared for both.” This lesson is important for both teachers battling cancer and their students. Sometimes, during these tough times, it’s the teachers that receive lessons rather than the students – lessons of vulnerability, lessons of grace, and lessons of precious time.
Thank you, Dr. Jim Wortman, for offering an inside perspective of the intersection between cancer and education and for your years of serving students and teachers!
-Men’s Health Week 2020