From a man with late-stage cancer who has matching tattoos with over 400 strangers to a 78-year-old cancer survivor getting his black belt in Taekwondo, here’s what’s happening in the cancer landscape this week.
Don Caskey, who was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer a year and a half ago, decided to celebrate life by getting matching tattoos with people. He now shares a tattoo design with over 400 people from around the world.
“Last summer I realized this cancer is going to kill me at some point and to take memories of me and create new connections while I’m still alive, I decided to start asking random strangers to get tattoos with me,” Caskey told 6 ABC. “I believe a form of your body goes to heaven, that’s why I chose tattoos. Anything material you own; your car, your phone, your house, whatever it may be, stays here.”
Some of the 408 people with matching tattoos even have Caskey’s name tattooed on them. Amanda Russell, who is from Scotland, livestreamed the process when she got a thistle tattooed on her.
“I just think there’s something about his story,” said Russell. “I’ve lost people to cancer, family members, and friends. And just the thought of having that memory someday special having that connection with them is really nice.”
Jessica Morris died from complications of brain cancer last week at age 57. In the years following her diagnosis of glioblastoma, she had launched research efforts to improve patient-directed approaches to treatment and founded the organization Our Brain Bank.
Morris’s death was announced by her husband, Ed Pilkington, to friends and supporters via email. He expressed his hope that Our Brain Bank would “help keep her flame and this fight alive.”
Morris had previously written for the New York Times about glioblastoma, how her journey paralleled that of late Senator John McCain and how much advocacy and research needs to be done for the disease to center patients.
“Patient symptom data is a largely untapped pool of information that can inform researchers, so they can better design treatments,” Morris said during a 2019 panel discussion on patient-centric treatments. “Involving patients in that process has the added benefit of providing people with the disease to feel they are managing the disease, and not the other way ’round.”
Jack Berry is a 13-year-old with pediatric cancer from Missoula, Montana. Throughout his cancer journey, which forced him to put things like CrossFit, tennis, biking, skiing, hockey, running and soccer on hold, he has received a great deal of support from his community.
"Obviously I want to be like with my friends, and like going to high school on the first day, but I mean, at some point, you just have to come to terms with you can't,” Berry told KPAX. “And you know your life isn't the normal 13-year-old life. That's fine with me, I feel like I came to terms with that a while ago, but it is kind of hard to not be doing what my friends are doing. But I think we do pretty well with enjoying our time here."
His supporters, coined “Jack’s Army,” have created signs of encouragement and fundraising events to support his treatment.
"Our goal is to make it so (Jack’s father) doesn't have to think about work, so he can focus completely on his family,” said MRFD Captain Kory Burgess, who is a family friend. “We have guys step up and cover all his shifts for him so he can be 100% with his family, and not here, worried about work.”
Tum Gustafson, 78, is a veteran and cancer survivor who has also endured many other extensive medical procedures.
“I had cancer surgery in 2016. I have heart work. I have 11 stints and I am also diabetic,” he told WIBW.
He started taking martial arts classes several years ago to stay healthy after his surgeon told him being active would improve his health.
“Both of my grandkids – actually all of my grandkids – went through Taekwondo,” Gustafson said. “So it encouraged me to go that way.”
After three years of training, he was presented with a black belt in Taekwondo this week. His wife got the privilege of tying the belt around his waist.
“I encourage, especially elder people who sit down and hug the couch and watch tv, get active,” Gustafson said.
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