After enduring his first rounds of chemotherapy at North Memorial Medical Center’s Humphrey Cancer Center in February 2013, Albert Zatkoff decided to step it up a notch by launching a personalized counterattack on the tumor inside his lung.
He flew to his beloved Palm Springs and gave an affirming valentine to himself: He entered a half-marathon race and gutted it out, finishing with a commemorative medal around his neck.
Weeks later, in the kind of giving gesture that endeared him to so many, “Alby” Zatkoff returned to the cancer center, reached into his pocket and placed the medal around the neck of a stunned oncology nurse, an avid runner.
“Alby will never be forgotten,” said Allie Anderson, the nurse who was the beneficiary of Zatkoff’s kindness. “I will never forget Mardi Gras Monday or Hawaiian Monday when Alby passed out beads and leis to other patients in the clinic. I was, and am, so proud of his courage and strength.”
Zatkoff, 59, died Aug. 16.
Known fondly around the Minneapolis lakes as a man who could easily walk off 26 miles in a day — while taking photographs for his blog, photoeachday.com — Zatkoff let his website evolve from a documentary point of view to a more inspirational tone as he moved through his cancer treatment.
“He believed in a Japanese-Buddhist term called hendoku iyaku, meaning ‘turning poison into medicine,’ ” said Chris White, his husband and partner of 22 years. “It means you should transform suffering or a negative experience into something positive as an opportunity for personal growth. His Buddhist practice included daily chanting where he also added chanting for ‘the best doctors and the best medicine.’ ”
Zatkoff was a 1976 graduate of Albion College in Michigan, where he majored in visual arts. He was a skilled copywriter who launched his 35-year career in Chicago, working for Montgomery Ward.
From there, he moved to Minneapolis when Dayton Hudson sought his talent. He last worked for Best Buy, working as a managing editor for the company’s website.
He was an avid collector of vintage items, having an extraordinary eye for the quirky.
Zatkoff started out first collecting stamps from around the world. Then, 25 years ago, he traveled to Australia where he found himself amassing censored mail from World War II, correspondence that never found its way to recipients in Australia. Then U.S. postcards, pottery, photographs and airline memorabilia soon filled the couple’s home in south Minneapolis.
Last September, an array of friends was invited to Zatkoff and White’s home, lured into believing they’d be celebrating his last round of chemo. Instead, they found themselves attending the couple’s wedding. Zatkoff had reached out to state Sen. Scott Dibble, a cosponsor of the 2013 bill that legalized same-sex marriage, to officiate.
“The joy of those guys being able to get married. … They were giddy, they adored each other,” said their friend Lisa Neary.
A celebration of Zatkoff’s life will be announced at a later date.