Always Forge Ahead with a Purpose

03/03/2021 By Dan Dry Dock Shockley

My name is Dan Dry Dock Shockley. I am a retired U.S. Navy, Operation Desert Storm; Enduring and Iraqi Freedom veteran, and 9-year hereditary colon cancer WARRIOR with a permanent ileostomy.

In May 2012, while I resided in Hawaii, my first and only colonoscopy at age 51 was performed by the Veterans Administration Medical Center. The results revealed 100 polyps embedded throughout my colon, rectum, and anus. Based on these findings I visited a Certified Genetic Counselor. Gene-specific DNA sequencing testing was initiated. I had not experienced any symptoms nor had any family history.

My certified genetic counselor and colorectal surgeon at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii encouraged me to read about the gene mutation they suspected I had. I was told this would allow me an opportunity to better familiarize myself with what is considered life-saving surgery as well as a life-changing event.

The results revealed the diagnosis of attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis (AFAP), which is an autosomal dominant germline mutation.

It is estimated to impact <0.03% of the global population.

It’s important to note, Dr. Henry T. Lynch, the founding father of hereditary colon cancer research, is credited with the discovery of AFAP. My certified genetic counselor and colorectal surgeon were colleagues of Dr. Lynch.

Based on these findings it was in the best practice of medicine to have total-proctocolectomy surgery with a permanent ileostomy. Surgery was successfully performed at Tripler Army Medical Center in the days following the diagnosis.

My mindset was, and continues to be:

I tend not to think about things out of my control, such as medical concerns. What I can control is my attitude. After 5 decades on God’s green earth, my positive attitude has brought me this far why change now.

During the 9-week recovery process, my focus was to keep my brain busy. Reaching out to numerous organizations locally, nationally, and internationally better prepared me for life as an ostomate with a rare gene mutation. Being an advocate for hereditary colon cancer, ostomy, and rare disease awareness as well as sharing my journey as a source of inspiration is important to me.

From the onset, my response was to embrace this condition and adapt to life as an ostomate. Maintaining a positive attitude and having strong faith made a significant impact on my ability to overcome adversity.

I’ve adopted the below four words during my recovery to reflect on:

1. Attitude = 100%. By maintaining a positive attitude it allows for a better chance of overcoming adversity.

2. FAITH, I created the following acronym: Full Assurance Influenced Through Hope. Having FAITH is believing in something we’re unable to see. Hence, having hope things turn out well.

3. ADAPT, here’s my acronym for what it means to me as an ostomate: Attitude Determines the Ability for a Positive Transformation.

4. Purpose, my purpose is to educate the world about my hereditary colon cancer syndrome and the importance of early detection in efforts of continuing the legacy of Dr. Henry T. Lynch.

Dr. Lynch visited Hawaii several months after my successful total-proctocolectomy with a permanent ileostomy surgery. I met with him to discuss my case. Since AFAP has no cure it will and has manifested in other organs which require routine endoscopy surveillance.

Dr. Lynch is known as the “father of cancer genetics” and “the father of hereditary cancer detection and prevention” for his work identifying cancer syndromes and their patterns of inheritance. He considered me a colleague and we remained in contact through the years as he was tracking my journey. I collaborated with him on numerous articles I have written about my journey.

Here’s my analogy of LIFE and BASEBALL. What do they both have in common? Neither has a time limit. When a baseball game goes into extra innings, I think of it as free baseball. That said, my life as an 8-year hereditary colon cancer WARRIOR is in extra innings. Therefore, my life is like free baseball.

In closing, I recall an old cliche, it’s been said you can lead a horse to water, however, you can’t make it drink. However, I discovered you can influence the horse to drink by feeding it salt along the way. My hopes are by sharing this story it will serve as a source of salt for those who read it.

Always Forge Ahead with a Purpose!

Editor’s Note: Dan is honored to share his hereditary colon cancer WARRIOR journey on the GRYT platform. He is a Retired Navy, Operation Desert Storm; Enduring and Iraqi Freedom veteran, and currently a 10-year hereditary colon cancer WARRIOR.  He is a member of the University of Michigan Genetic Hereditary Testing (MiGHT) Advisory Board and University of Texas Health Center, San Antonio, Texas, live-case presentation for their Genetics In GI Malignancy multidisciplinary annual conferences. His social media handles are Twitter: @Dryshockley and LinkedIn: Dan Dry Dock Shockley. 

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