Terminal cancer didn’t stop living canvas Don Caskey from getting to Alaska

Channel 2 Morning Edition (6 a.m.)
Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 7:00 AM AKDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2021 at 7:13 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Last year, Don Caskey, of Ohio, was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer. Instead of giving in and giving up on what life he had left, he decided to start “living his best life,” and make memories with people he met along the way.

He’s been doing that by getting matching tattoos with total strangers for the last year. Caskey has matching tattoos with people as far away as London, Morocco, and here in the 49th state.

“It’s crazy but honestly speaking, although this cancer is going to kill me, it’s kind of been a blessing,” Caskey said. “Because it’s allowed me to do things that I’ve never done before.”

Facebook is how he’s been spreading his story. Before the beginning of 2021, Katinka Roberts in Palmer was looking for inspirations for new tattoos and stumbled across Caskey’s page. That led to both of them getting matching forget-me-nots on their legs in January.

“I said ‘hey if you’re ever in Alaska, I’ll get a matching tattoo with you,’” Roberts said. “And he said, ‘I’m probably not going to make it up to Alaska, but let’s do it virtually.’”

Roberts was the first virtual matching tattoo that Caskey had done. At that time, he had around a respectful 130 pieces on his body.

At the time, Caskey didn’t know if he’d have enough time to make it all the way up to Alaska. Last week, he made the journey to the Last Frontier to visit Roberts, a friend who he’d only ever talked to on the phone before.

Now, he’s running out of room except for a little more space on his face and neck, and has racked up a count of 419 tattoos. Every single one is a reminder of the good times he’s had.

Since Alaska’s News Source interviewed Caskey in January, his journey has taken off. On top of the hundreds of added pieces of artwork, he’s been featured in news stories across the nation, been featured in People Magazine, and even had a country song by Jay Allen written about him.

Caskey said he and Roberts spent the week checking out the state. They went on some wildlife tours, went to the gun range, got some food, and of course spent time making new friends in some of the bars in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

He said his Alaska tattoo holds a special place in his heart. However, he said the way he likes his tattoos is the same way parents love their children.

“I love them differently, but equally,” he said.

Caskey recently went to the doctor for a check up on his cancer. Based on what he was told, it’s almost like the tattoos and good times are keeping him going.

“They told me it hasn’t gotten any worse, it hasn’t gotten any better so I guess that’s good. It’s like stagnant,” he said.

Neither Caskey nor the doctors know how much longer he has. Since his diagnosis, that hasn’t stopped him from living life to the fullest. That’s a message he wants the world to hear.

“You know, no matter how bad something seems, something comes out of it, and don’t ever give up fighting,” he said. “Because life’s too precious to just give up. And things can change in a heartbeat that make things better than you never would thought would be better before.”

Once his journey does end, Caskey said he’s looking forward to the stories people will tell about him from the permanent marks on his body. He said he’s even looking into donating his skin to a museum.

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