Few things humble an individual like three little words that, when put together, send fear throughout the body.
"You have cancer."
Mansfield School District Superintendent (MISD) Dr. Jim Vaszauskas heard those words in 2013. Then, in 2015, after he'd thought he had defeated the dreaded disease, he heard four even more terrifying words.
"Your cancer has returned."
Dr. V., as he is known around campus, once again fought thymoma (a tumor originating from the epithelial cells of the thymus) and bested it. Though he has now been cancer-free for more than two years, the battle inspired him to do something for others facing similar life-challenging situations with cancer.
Grateful for the support he had received during his time of trial, he created Colors for Caring in the fall of 2015. He’s passionate about spreading the power of community support because he said it is something that helped him tremendously in his recovery.
On the first Monday of each month during the school year (except January), the MISD encourages members of its community - along with anyone else in the city of Mansfield - to wear a color that represents a cancer that effected the life of a loved one, or themselves.
"It’s good to take time out to pause and think of others. Colors for Caring gets the conversation started about cancer," Dr. V. said.
Though cancer is often associated with adults, Dr.V. said it is important for students to also know all they can about it.
"Whether students are talking to friends or a teacher, or simply posting a picture using the hashtag #ColorsForCaring, they are getting to know more about each other and realizing how many people are affected by cancer,” he said.
"I’m hoping Colors for Caring teaches students to proactively be more compassionate. You can be solid academically, athletically, and in extracurricular activities, but to be a well-rounded person, you have to care about people. People do matter, and showing kindness goes a long way. I hope they learn that through this initiative.”
On the MISD web site is a list of colors assigned to 25 different forms of cancer, including lavender for all forms of cancer. There's also a plum color ribbon for caregivers.
"Sometimes the students and staff wear orange to support me with my leukemia, and it means a lot," said Ray Riley, teacher at T.A. Howard Middle School. "You never know what anyone else is going through, and it really hits home when it happens to you.”
Janie Woolsey, teacher at Willie Brown Elementary School and a breast cancer survivor, said the program makes people going through cancer treatment realize they are not alone in their fight.
"It makes the people going through it feel supported. It’s a great feeling to know that someone cares and that people are thinking of you," she said.
October is Cancer Awareness Month. The next Colors for Caring day is Oct. 2. Subsequent Colors for Caring days throughout the school year are Nov. 6, Dec. 4,
Feb. 5, March 5, April 2, and May 7.
Dr. V. said one of the best parts of the program is getting to know the stories behind the colors. It helps, he said, to better understand what others are facing.
"Staff members and teachers have shared with me what they are going through," he said. "Members of our MISD family have lost parents, spouses, close friends, and even children. Many are dealing with sickness, stress, loss, grief, aging parents or grandparents, parenthood, and incredibly busy lives, all while trying to do the best jobs that they can for our students and for this wonderful district.
"It helped reaffirm to me the importance of the Colors for Caring initiative.”