“Forge Ahead with Purpose”


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Guest blog by Dan Shockley

US Navy Veteran and AFAP Survivor

Pictured: Dan Shockley (left) and Dr. Henry T. Lynch (right)

My name is Dan "Dry Dock" Shockley, retired U.S. Navy, Operation Desert Storm, Enduring and Iraqi Freedom veteran and eight-year hereditary colon cancer warrior. It was during my first, and only, routine colonoscopy in 2012, at the age of 51, that over 100 polyps were discovered. Gene specific DNA testing was initiated leading to the diagnosis of Attenuated Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (AFAP), a subtype of Familial Adenomatous Polyposis.

Based on these findings it was in the best practice of medicine to undergo total proctocolectomy with permanent ileostomy, as any of the polyps left unattended would develop into colon cancer.

Learning About My Diagnosis

Throughout this process my certified genetic counselor and colorectal surgeon encouraged me to read about my condition, upcoming surgery, routine surveillance required, and life as an "ostomate." The surgery was successfully performed only two weeks after my diagnosis.

I've maintained an open dialogue over the years with my siblings and relatives on my routine endoscopic procedures and the importance of early detection. As a result, my relatives have shared my updates with their medical teams. We have no knowledge of any family history pertaining to colon related issues. That said, it's been suggested by Dr. Henry T. Lynch that it's very well possible the AFAP mutation started with me. 

A Military Mentality

During my 22-year Navy career I realized that mental and physical strength are important attributes, especially in the face of personal or professional adversity. My military experiences have taught me that being informed, prepared, and maintaining a positive attitude while committed to the mission is instrumental in achieving success. When faced with challenges, I maintain a positive attitude and utilize numerous resources that allow me to better understand the situation. Challenges like my AFAP diagnosis are opportunities, not obstacles.

From the onset, I embraced the diagnosis and initiated my personal research efforts to better prepare myself for life with a hereditary colon cancer syndrome and an ostomy. It appears there are a limited number of resources for people with all varieties of hereditary cancer. I've enrolled in the hereditary cancer registries at Creighton University and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Dr. Lynch: The Father of Hereditary Cancer Detection and Prevention

My certified genetic counselor was a colleague of Dr. Henry T. Lynch, the founding father of hereditary colon cancer syndrome research. He is credited with discovering AFAP and co-authored a peer reviewed publication in 1995 confirming his findings. This mutation is estimated to affect less than .03 percent of the worldwide population. Several months after my surgery, Dr. Lynch visited Hawaii, where I was residing and I had the opportunity to meet him and discuss my case. As a result we have remained in contact through the years. 

My hopes are one day my advocacy efforts for hereditary colon cancer syndromes will add significantly to this deficit of education pertaining to these concerns. I'm seeking a Senate resolution designating the fourth week of March as National Hereditary Colon Cancer Awareness Week. It's a daunting task. However, I'm battle tested and ready to lead the charge.

Always Forge Ahead with a Purpose!

My Vision: To share the importance of early detection through local, national, and international advocacy efforts for hereditary colon cancer and ostomy awareness as a source of inspiration and encouragement, with the goal of overcoming adversity.

My Purpose: To educate the world about hereditary colon cancer syndromes, continuing the legacy of Dr. Henry T. Lynch to promote awareness of these diseases and increase the chances of saving lives.

It's been said we're unable to change the direction of the wind. What we can do is adjust our sails. After 22 years in the Navy, I'm good at adjusting.

In closing, 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, as an eight-year hereditary colon cancer WARRIOR, my life is in extra innings. I'm enjoying FREE BASEBALL.