By Robb Murray
---- — MANKATO — It's not over, of course.
There's still the recovery, the soreness, the fatigue. He still has to have follow-up testing in May on his kidney and again in June on his prostate.
But Jonathan Zierdt is out of the woods for the most part. And he's a changed man because of it.
"Before my diagnosis, I didn't know what this meant for anyone," Zierdt said from the near-empty offices of Greater Mankato Growth, where he serves as CEO. "I think I just accepted it before. I didn't have that shared empathy. But now ... I don't want anybody to have to experience this."
The Free Press has been following Zierdt's progress through what has been the most trying time of his life: the diagnosis of both prostate and kidney cancers. A few weeks ago he had the third of three surgeries during the course of two months. He's spent 16 days in the hospital. He has 11 scars in his abdomen.
He's struggling right now to regain his pre-surgery energy and activity level. And he's not fully back to work. Much of the GMG staff was in St. Paul on Tuesday for Mankato Day at the Capitol. Uncharacteristically, Zierdt stayed home for it.
"I want to be there, helmet on, running full steam," Zierdt said. "But I know that I can't."
Zierdt's most recent surgery wasn't without surprises.
He wound up with an infection that his doctors said was the result of his abdomen being "very angry" — three surgeries are hard on a body, especially when they're all in the same area, his doctor told him. Also, he found out his prostate cancer was a bit worse than he or his doctors had predicted.
Prior to surgery his prostate cancer scored an 8 on the Gleason evaluation system, which is used to assess a tumor's progression and aggressiveness. Post surgery, they informed Zierdt it was actually more of a 9. The worst is 10.
He'd been hoping the entire tumor would be encapsulated. When doctors got inside, however, they found it had spread, but only a little. It had reached the fatty tissue around the prostate. This doesn't change much about his future other than he's tentatively planning on undergoing radiation treatment after he's back to full health.
One of the biggest joys throughout this process, Zierdt said, has been people showing support and men confiding with him that, by sharing his story, they've been moved to take their health more seriously. Zierdt and his wife, Ginger, have piles of letters, cards and emails from well-wishers, and the correspondence could eventually wind up in a scrapbook.
He's proud he's been able to inspire men to get healthy, and said that, in the future, should any group or organization ask him to talk about his experience, he'll not think twice about it. Of course he'll do it.
The game plan for now, though, is to rest. He's got doctors' orders: no lifting more than 10 pounds and no exercising until April 14. After that, he plans to continue his routine of waking up at 5 a.m. and heading straight to the pool at the YMCA.
Whatever he does, though, one thing's for certain. He'll be a different guy. Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, maybe he'll offer to play a round of golf. Instead of late on a Friday, maybe he'll realize work can wait until Monday. Or at least until tomorrow.
"I'm not any less committed to anything," he said. "But I want to make sure there's good balance in my life."