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A story in ink: Cancer patient gets matching tattoos with strangers across the country

The furthest being in Palmer
Published: Jan. 4, 2021 at 6:38 AM AKST
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - If you ask Don Caskey, life is way too short to not make as many connections as possible and leave your mark on as many lives as you can. This is part of his new mantra, as he lives out the rest of his days with terminal stage four kidney cancer.

The mark he’s leaving comes in many different forms. Since July, Caskey has been traveling the country making as many new friends as he possibly can and getting a matching tattoo with as many people who want to get one with him.

Don Caskey zooming in to tell his story about not letting cancer rule his life. He's been...
Don Caskey zooming in to tell his story about not letting cancer rule his life. He's been traveling the country making friends and shortly after getting matching tattoos with them.(Taylor Clark)

“Honestly speaking, I believe I’m going to take these memories with me when I go from meeting these people,” Caskey said. “Each one is unique in itself, and they all got a special meaning. But I’m also leaving memories with people when I go.”

So far, over 120 people have decided to get a matching tattoo with Caskey. He said he’s been going all over the place making new friends and getting new ink. Since August, he estimated it’s only been about seven days where he hasn’t gotten a new tattoo.

In his “Celebration of Life,” the furthest his message has spread is in Palmer, where he has a matching forget-me-not tattoo with Katinka Roberts.

Katinka Roberts (top) and Don Caskey (bottom) chatting over Facetime while they get matching...
Katinka Roberts (top) and Don Caskey (bottom) chatting over Facetime while they get matching forget-me-not tattoos.(Don Caskey)

Roberts has other tattoos. The biggest and most elaborate ones are memorial pieces for her mother and brother. Unfortunately, the tattoo she got for her brother was damaged when she was injured after trying to get her cat out of a tree.

So she was looking for someone to help restore it, but she was also going through the craving for more tattoos. That brought her to tattoo pages on social media, where she saw Don’s story.

The two swapped numbers and instantly became friends.

“It really just made me hopeful,” Roberts said. “And now, we have matching tattoos and I never thought I’d have a man’s name tattooed on me. But I do and I’ve never even met him. But every time I see it or think about it, I feel hopeful.”

They now call each other regularly to catch up. Roberts said she’s inspired by his story, even though she can hardly believe how he remains so upbeat.

“Every time I talk to him, ‘Hey! What’s going on?’ like it’s so positive. And that’s what I want,” she said.

Despite being sick, Caskey is a very cheerful person and a classic optimist. Even with his cancer complications, he still goes to the gym almost every day and get’s the tattoos just as often. Not looking sick is exactly what he’s going for.

He also has children, had a long career in construction and other notable moments in his life. The tattoos won’t be all he’s remembered for. However, the people who have matching ones with him are never going to forget their friend Don Caskey.

“Realistically speaking, I could be remembered for decades,” Caskey said.

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