NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — When two women from Michigan arrived for a visit to downtown Nashville, they had no idea they’d soon be friends with one of the most unique people they’d ever met. That new friend’s message was to get out and live life, no matter what.
“It hurts, but I’m okay!” laughed Casey Sutton, getting a flower tattoo on her wrist at Nashville Ink. She’s never gotten a tattoo before.
“I haven’t, but I’m loving every second,” she said with a wince. “Smiling through the pain!”
What convinced her to get one now isn’t just visiting Nashville from Michigan. It isn’t just the encouragement of friend Amanda Hoff, who watched her get the tattoo. Instead, what convinced her to get the ink is someone she’d never met before.
“Basically, he was like, ‘you wanna get a tattoo today?'” Casey said, gesturing to a man sitting nearby.
Don Caskey has more than 500 tattoos.
“I’ve got a few of them, that’s for sure,” Don smiled. “I’ve got a lot of free space, believe it or not. My torso’s pretty much free. My feet are free. I got space on my neck here.”
Don’s from Toledo, but he travels the country. He meets total strangers and asks them if they’d like to get matching tattoos.
“They looked at me like I had three heads,” Don said, remembering the early days of asking strangers to get a matching tattoo with him. “That guy’s crazy!”
Today, he’s made connections with people everywhere. There’s a story behind why Don does this.
“I got diagnosed with terminal renal cell carcinoma, a form of kidney cancer, in December 2019,” he said. “The cancer’s since spread into my lymph nodes and my liver and one kidney I got left and one of my lungs. My doctor said, ‘If I had to guess, you’ve got months, not years. Months. It could be three months, it could be 40 months, but it’s not going to be a long time.’ I remember thinking at that point, ‘that’s the hand I’ve been dealt, and I can sit home and feel sorry for myself and wait for this cancer to take me or I can go out and live.’ Well, I’m out living.”
Don doesn’t have a favorite tattoo. Every last one of them is tied to the people he’s met, with their own stories.
The tattoos he’ll share with Casey and Amanda mark tattoos number 536 and 537 for Don.
Don’t even start a Stranger Ink nonprofitraising money to pay for the funerals of terminally ill people.
“To clean it up a little bit: to heck with cancer,” said Don. “I’m going to go out and live and enjoy what I’ve got left, whether it be a day or three years. I don’t want to sit around and wait for it to come. I want to take it. Go out there and experience life. Go out and live. Fight your way through it.”