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A Veteran’s Positive Outlook on Bleak Diagnosis

This blog was written by guest Daniel Shockley: a proud US Navy Veteran and ostomy advocate.

Every November 11, the United States observes Veterans Day to honor all those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. I reflect on and recognize those who served on active duty defending our 13 stripes and 50 stars.

Image: Dan Shockley in uniform with American flagI’m Dan Shockley, a Navy retiree veteran of Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During my 22-year career, I served onboard seven different types of ships–three of which were deployed to the Persian Gulf. My last tour was in Bahrain in September 2001-September 2003 in direct support of Operation Enduring and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Upon retiring at the age of 43, I resided in Hawai’i and registered with the local Veterans Health Care System. My medical team encouraged me to schedule a routine colonoscopy at the age of 50. My first and only colonoscopy revealed there were 100 polyps embedded throughout my colon, rectum, and anus. My GI doctor suspected an underlying issue and immediately referred me to the Certified Genetic Counselor at the Tripler Army Medical Center. Germline DNA testing confirmed hereditary colon cancer syndrome and Attenuated Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (AFAP). The best practice for this diagnosis is to undergo total proctocolectomy with a permanent ileostomy surgery. I embraced this diagnosis and shortly after underwent successful surgery.

My mindset is that I tend not to think of things I’m unable to control, like medical conditions. What I can control is my positive attitude. After five decades on God’s green earth, my positive attitude has brought me this far. Why change now? Furthermore, my military experience conditioned me to adapt, improvise, and overcome personal and professional adversity. My personal mantra is a positive spin on a bleak diagnosis: Always Forge Ahead with a Purpose!

Image: Dan Shockley in CaliforniaBeing a positive voice and helping silence the stigma of ostomies is important to me. My purposes are to educate the world about Attenuated FAP, to continue the legacy of Dr. Henry T. Lynch–the father of hereditary cancer research who discovered the AFAP mutation, and to spread awareness of the importance of early detection in hopes of saving lives. I’m able to help educate others and spread awareness by sharing my story. While on convalescent leave, the Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs Office released a feature story of my diagnosis. The WOCN Society previously featured my story in a magazine article. My story has been featured in many other publications and podcasts from like-minded organizations. I also participate in virtual international live-case presentations for ostomies, rare diseases, hereditary colon cancer syndrome, and mental health platforms.

It’s been said you can lead a horse to water. However, you can’t make it drink. There’s a flip side to this cliché; you can influence a horse to drink by feeding it salt along the way. May my story be a source of salt to those who read or hear about it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!