John Kerksieck is a big man, shaped by a lifetime of outdoor work on a sprawling farm on the Grand Prairie. It takes a certain toughness to go toe-to-toe with Mother Nature year in and year out and that’s just what Kerksieck has done all his life.

Kerksieck is proud to be the fourth generation to work this land but there are other things in his family line that aren’t quite so positive. On every branch of the family tree, cancer hangs like kudzu, affecting male and female relatives alike.

“All kinds of cancer; my aunt had breast cancer, my dad had some kind of really rare cancer, I can’t even remember the name of it,” he said. “Uncle had another kind of cancer. All of them 55, 56 when they died. Then I had another uncle who died in his 80s of prostate cancer. Cousin died at 14 of cancer and another cousin died in her late 50s who got cancer of the back somehow.”

“One of my doctor friends said, ‘I’m surprised any of y’all are left. That’s the worst family history I’ve ever seen.’ And it is bad. You just got to deal with it.’”

Unlike most of his male relatives, Kerksieck decided to deal with it by following a schedule of annual checkups once he hit 50. The decision cut against his natural inclinations, but common sense and a love of his family overrode his macho tendencies.

“When I started going, my PSA was one and everything was good and all that and then I remember my PSA went up,” he said. “This was 2014, my PSA went up to 4 and the doctor said, ‘We’re going to have to watch that.’”

Inexplicably, Kerksieck missed his 2015 appointment (“I just don’t know how I did that,” he says.) and by the time 2016 rolled around his genes had caught up to him in the form of prostate cancer. He was referred to Arkansas Urology to take on the biggest challenge of his life starting with removal of the prostate and including 40 rounds of radiation therapy.

“Actually, the radiation wasn’t as bad as I thought. The hard thing for me was after the prostate surgery, (my doctor) didn’t want me doing nothing for six weeks, even lifting over 10 pounds,” he said. “I tried to follow that as best I could, but I farm and I’ve got cattle. It’s hard not to do anything. I’m not saying I was the best patient in the world, but I tried.”

Kerksieck has taken what he’s learned from the experience and uses it to get people to take steps to protect their health. He’s not shy about chiding others about putting their fears to the side for the sake of themselves and their families.

“Regular checkups are very important,” he said. “My kids, my nephews and nieces, I say, ‘Y’all, please, just stay on top of your health. Any kind of cancer, early detection is real important. And please tell your doctor about your history.’”

“I’ve got a brother and he hadn’t had a physical in three years. He’s not any smarter than me, he’s just luckier. It’s not that hard to go to the doctor.”

Kerksieck’s particularly adamant about the role women can play in getting the men in their life to see a doctor. His message: Nag him to within an inch of his life until he gets a checkup.

“I’d tell them it’s a lot easier to bitch at them now than go through the pain and misery my wife’s gone through. It’s really hard on her,” he said. “It’s been harder on my wife and family. It’s really hard on them. I just keep going.”

Kerksieck’s comeback has been slow and measured, but he’s back on the tractor and directing his hired hands with authority. This year, his beanfield rolls out like a forest green ocean to the horizon. He’s happy he’s here to see it.

“Arkansas Urology, everybody there has been so good to me through all this mess. I especially want to thank the nurses for being so good to me, they’re just great,” he said. “I tell everybody I didn’t go to med school to learn how to doctor myself. I’m a pretty good farmer but I’m not too interested in medicine. I just do what my doctor tells me. I trust him.”

So Where Do You Start?

Arkansas Urology is hosting Kickoff to Men’s Health, an annual event designed to underscore the importance of men’s health, specifically prostate screenings. The events, held in Little Rock and North Little Rock, are designed with the family in mind, as a reminder to men that a prostate cancer diagnosis doesn’t just affect them, it affects everyone around them. The events will offer free men’s health screenings and health and wellness experts will be on hand to discuss ways families can stay healthy together and a variety of healthy activities led by Little Rock Athletics. 

There are also a number of giveaways at stake, including vendor prizes, a Kendra Scott giveaway for all women in attendance and the chance to win a new TV. Men who pre-register by calling 501-219-8900 are also entered in a special drawing for a VISA gift card.

The Little Rock event is scheduled for Sept. 11 from 5 to 8 p.m. at 1300 Centerview Drive. The North Little Rock event is scheduled for Sept. 27 from 5 to 8 p.m. at 4200 Stockton Drive.