You’ve just been told that you have cancer, and it’s one of those cancers that has a nasty reputation. What is the first question you ask your doctor? I think many of us would ask something along the lines of “am I going to live?”
Not Richard Suter.
When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April of this year, the first question he asked was … “What’s next?” Later he told the doctors that he didn’t want to know the tumor numbers because those numbers would only bring his mind down, and as Richard says, “where the mind goes, the man follows.” So instead, he wanted to know the plan, the steps to make him better.
It is that positivity that has fueled a movement around Gallatin this year. If you drive almost anywhere in Gallatin, you’ll see signs that read + > –. Those signs are both because of and in support of Richard Suter. I’m excited to share a little more about his story and his contagious “positivity is greater than negativity” outlook on life.
How I Know Richard
I went to a Gallatin Chamber 1 Hour Wonder, and Richard was speaking. He gave us a bunch of photography tips and dropped incredible one-liners like “every image is selling something” and “find a way to see things differently; change your perspective.” At the end of his talk, I introduced myself and heard a little of his story. After listening to him, I could have broken out in worship, and I’m a horrible singer, so no one wants that. Instead, I asked him if we could have coffee sometime, and we walked to his car so he could give me one of his business cards. He also gave me his signature purple + > – bracelet that he was wearing because he couldn’t find another one – just a small example of his willingness to love others and share hope.
Richard’s Sumner Story
Richard grew up on a farm in Joelton, which he hated at 14 but now says he wouldn’t trade the farm work because it gave him fantastic work eithic. He moved to Gallatin in 1987 and spent 27 years in the car business before starting his own photography business in 2008. This self-taught artist has photographed the Tennessee Titans and just about every company and professional in Gallatin.
As I listened to Richard talk about photography, I realized that it is his excellent observation skills that allow him to capture such stunning images. Yes, he works to find the best angle and a unique perspective. But, he also has a way of reading people in just a few minutes. Sometimes we aren’t comfortable in our skin. Sometimes we are in a hurry and need to relax. Sometimes we have a bad hair day. Sometimes we need a hug. And, somehow, he knows those things and makes his subjects laugh and lean into the vulnerability. Richard loves the thrill of getting someone to smile, and he is good at it.
The + > – Story
Richard’s original + > – made its appearance in the form of a tattoo on his wrist two years ago. His tattoo collection also includes positive phrases like “25/8,” “Smile,” and “I can. I will. End of Story.” He’s been spreading the message that hope is greater than any circumstance you are facing for a while now. However, he had no idea the impact the tattoo would have on him and our community.
When Richard’s wife, Elizabeth, created a Facebook group back in April so that Richard’s many cheerleaders could follow along with his recovery journey, Richard did not want the group’s cover photo to be of him. So instead, they decided to use an image of his tattoo, which became a tiny spark that grew into a wildfire of positivity. For example, in addition to signs and car stickers throughout our city, Old Soul Tattoo Co. in Gallatin has given 62 + > – tattoos this year, and the symbol has been created using shells and sand on beaches across the world.
Richard is committed to sharing motivating posts daily on his Facebook group, and you are welcome to follow along. Elizabeth has also set up a shop where you can purchase merchandise to spread the message and help raise money for his medical bills. You can also donate directly through GoFundMe. If you want to hear more from Richard, I highly recommend watching this interview with Three Oaks Church.
In honor of Thanksgiving month, I’m asking two different questions this month:
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food?
His mom’s dressing
What’s something on your gratitude list this year that wasn’t on it last year?
Dr. Bauer, Dr. Gere, and his head coach Dr. Mertz
He’s had very few fearful moments if any. He knows that is the presence of God, and that presence completely surrounds him.
He says he’s been given a tremendous honor to turn something ugly into something beautiful, and he’s grateful for the position. No, Richard didn’t and wouldn’t ask for this diagnosis, but God is using it, and Richard is seeing the ride as wonderful and worth celebrating.