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Linked through ink: Man gets hundreds of tattoos after terminal cancer diagnosis

Don Caskey has gotten more than 400 tattoos with strangers in six countries around the world.
Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 5:39 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The story of a Toledo man with terminal cancer has been shared around the world. It all started when he came up with a unique way to mark his life’s journey.

Don Caskey first learned he had stage four kidney cancer in December 2019. While that diagnosis was difficult, Don says it opened up a whole new world for him.

“I believe that something good always comes out of the bad,” he says. “Cancer has been a blessing in an odd way. I am able to do things I’ve never been able to do.”

A Toledo man who was diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer in 2019, has gone on a remarkable journey since then. Don...

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The proof of that is easy to see. Don had five tattoos before he learned he had cancer. After his diagnosis, he decided to start asking people to get a tattoo with him. Most of them were complete strangers.

“I’ve had 419 people in the last 10 months in six countries on three continents get a tattoo with me,” he explains. “People I’d never met before that day.”

The handful of tattoos with people overseas were done virtually, but the rest have been in person. In the last month alone, Don’s gone to 11 states, putting 4,000 miles on his car.

“It is amazing to me how much I used to stress over the little things,” he says. “Now, I am stress-free. Wherever the wind takes me, that’s where I go. I am enjoying every minute I’ve got.”

Many of the people he’s now linked with through the ink are facing their own struggles.

“I got one with two sisters, and one of them is going through breast cancer,” explains Don. “I also got one with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. He lost two sons to overdoes.”

After getting a tattoo with country musician Jay Allen this year, Don’s story even landed on the pages of People Magazine.

“I never imagined in a million years that little old Don from Toledo, Ohio, would have a small, but worldwide voice, never,” he says. “But that’s exactly what happened.”

And he doesn’t want to stop at 419. He’s raffling off the chance to get the next tattoo with him. The money raised will go to a non-profit he’s starting called Stranger Ink.

“I am going to help pay for the funerals of terminally ill people,” he says. “They often have to spend so much money to try to stay alive, that there isn’t a lot of left. "

Don says he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon, and he’s looking forward to a few more chapters in his colorful life story.

“I am not ready to die, but I am not afraid to die,” he says. “Every day, I am grateful to have worldwide support. It’s a motivator to keep going.”

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