The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 2, 2014

Support for Zierdt is pouring in

Zierdt prepares for Monday surgery

By Robb Murray
The Mankato Free Press

---- — When Jonathan Zierdt decided to go public with his fight against kidney and prostate cancer, one of his goals was to raise awareness about men’s health and the need for men to take it seriously.

He knew some people might listen. But he was unprepared for the emails and phone calls he would get.

“I have a hard time thinking of a day I haven’t gotten a card or email wishing us the best,” he said.

One card in particular, from a North Mankato man, illustrated what’s been happening.

The man told Zierdt about his own father battling and defeating prostate cancer 20 years ago and praised Zierdt for having the courage to go public with the fight.

“And he also said, ‘I want you to know that because of what you’re doing, I made a long-overdue appointment with my doctor,’” Zierdt said.

He’s gotten dozens of calls and emails like this, all of them thanking him for showing men it’s crucial to take your health seriously.

So Zierdt finds himself in the position of being thrust into the limelight as a spokesman for men’s health. With the exception of skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. The American Cancer Society estimates about 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2014, and about 29,000 of them will die. Roughly 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime.

■ According the ACS, prostate cancer occurs mainly in older men. About 6 cases in 10 are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, and it is rare before age 40. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 66.

■ Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men, behind only lung cancer. About 1 in 36 men will die of prostate cancer.

■ Most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. More than 2.5 million men in the U.S. diagnosed at some point with prostate cancer are still alive today.

One of the biggest road blocks to men taking care of their health is the fact that they’re men.

In Zierdt’s case, he remembers even when he was very sick several months ago during the episode that led to his diagnoses, it took pleading from his wife, Ginger, to convince him to see a doctor.

A while back, while shaving, he sliced the tip of this thumb off and called Ginger home from work to help bandage it up. Upon seeing a blood-stained bathroom, she convinced him to go to the emergency room.

Even recently, when he experienced pain in his kidney area and wasn’t sure whether he should bother the doctors at the Mayo Clinic with it, it was Ginger again who reminded him to take care of himself.

“She said to me, ‘You know, they don’t mind when you call,’” Zierdt recalled.

“We’re wired that way,” Zierdt said. “We don’t want to show weakness, we don’t want to show vulnerability.”

And that, he said, can be dangerous.

When he finally got checked, doctors rated his prostate cancer an 8 on the Gleason Scale (a system used to measure prostate cancer). A score of 8 suggests the cancer is aggressive and likely to spread.

His prognosis is good at this point. Zierdt goes in for surgery Monday where he hopes doctors will be able to remove his prostate and the lymph nodes around it. With luck, they’ll sew him back up and send him home for recovery. He also may be in for a little radiation.

One of the things he’s learned throughout this process, he said, is the value of communication between patients and physicians. He’s been able to communicate directly with his local care team as well as the surgical team at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

So Zierdt is urging all men to not only take their health seriously, but also figure out a way to make meaningful communication with their physician a reality.

Because of his health situation, he said, he believes his access to providers has been enhanced. But he believes every patient — men included — should be encouraged to contact their physicians when they have problems.

Technology has helped, too. At the Mankato Clinic where his regular physician is, and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester where his surgical team is, he’s been able to use online patient portals to communicate with physicians.

“Guys shouldn’t have any excuse,” he said. “Conversing with their doctor is an email away. That’s even easier than a phone call.”