You would think that, after 22 years in the U.S. Navy, a veteran deserves a break. But like a baseball game, life doesn’t go as planned for many, and it didn’t for Dan “Dry Dock” Shockley. But this isn’t a story with a sad ending. Yes, it starts with a dire diagnosis, continues with surgery, and contains an ostomy. But it’s a story about how Dan’s diagnosis fueled his patient advocacy to help others extend their lives as he has extended his.
Attitude Can Kick Things up a Notch
Shockley retired from the U.S. Navy at age 43. By 50, a colonoscopy found 100 polyps embedded in his colon, rectum, and anus. One polyp had even grown into a mass.
His only possible symptom? He’d lost 14 lbs over the previous year. But that was hardly surprising: he’d been working two full-time jobs. Surely that caused the weight loss? Unfortunately, no. The mass had caused an 80% blockage in his ascending colon.
Had he not had his colonoscopy, he would never have discovered the polyps, his body’s only true warning signal. His doctor immediately suspected a rare hereditary colon cancer syndrome that could only be confirmed through genetic testing. Called attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis (AFAP), it leads to an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Dan’s attitude, though, is to step up to the plate and stare down the pitcher. So, while he awaited confirmation of his genetic tests, he researched the condition.
“No pun intended,” he says, “but my gut told me that the test was going to come back positive.”
Determining Next Steps Was Simple
Because Dan had researched his options, he had already laid out his game plan in case of a positive test result.
“I already knew in my mind that I wanted to have the surgery,” he said. “I knew based on the reading that I’d done prior to my appointment with my genetic counselor to confirm the diagnosis that any polyps left unattended, if you have a hereditary colon cancer syndrome, have a hundred percent chance of developing into colon cancer.”
He understood he needed surgery, but he could still wait.
“On the flip side, the longer I waited, the older I got, the higher the percentage that any of those polyps could turn into colon cancer,” he says.
The surgery would be major, but he knew it would let him live his best life. He had his colon, rectum, and anus removed and replaced by a permanent ostomy.
Able to Begin Patient Advocacy Work
The surgery gave Dan the ability to move forward with his life. Patient advocacy became his new purpose.
“I started the day after my surgery,” he says. He first reached out to the United Ostomy Associations of America and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. “I wanted to keep an open dialogue with them.”
More connections followed, including international ones. But perhaps the most life-changing connection Dan made was with Dr. Henry T. Lynch, who discovered AFAP in the 1990s.
Positive Mindset Helps Dan Stay Focused on Positive Outcomes
“My mindset is I tend not to think about things I’m unable to control, such as medical issues,” Dan says. “What I can control is my positive attitude. And after five decades on God’s green earth, my positive attitude has brought me this far. Why change now?”
Dan’s positive attitude helps him continue his advocacy work. Whether giving presentations to medical students, signing up with patient registries to help with research, or meeting with doctors directly, it helps him teach others about not only attenuated FAP but also the other eight hereditary colon cancer syndromes.
After all, you can’t round the bases, with the ball flying through the field from player to player, believing you won’t make it to home plate.
Transforming Public Awareness about Hereditary Colon Cancer Syndromes
For Dan “Dry Dock” Shockley, “adapt” stands for “attitude determines the ability for a positive transformation.” It’s his motto in life, and he applies it to patient advocacy, too.
When you think about it, the point of baseball essentially is to leave home and come back.
As a sailor, Dan left home often and returned. But as a patient advocate, home plate changed from a literal location to a metaphorical one—disease awareness—and has fewer rounds at bat. At first, home plate referred to Dan’s own awareness of hereditary colon cancer syndromes in general, and attenuated FAP in particular. But as he rounds the bases, its meaning has changed.
Dan’s trying to transform public awareness and lobby U.S. Congress to dedicate the last week of March as Hereditary Colon Cancer Awareness Week. That means he’s ultimately trying to make the over 330 million people in the United States aware of the nine hereditary cancer syndromes every year.
But Dan’s diagnosis is not the only motivation behind his advocacy. Also fueling his goal is Dr. Lynch’s passing in 2019 at 91. “What an honor it was not only to get to meet him and to collaborate with him,” says Dan. “But now my purpose in life is to share my journey, to educate the world about attenuated FAP and continue the legacy of Dr. Lynch on the importance of early detection. Ultimately, it’s my hope this will save lives.”
So, when Dan finishes rounding the bases, home plate for him will come with everyone in the stands cheering for one reason: they’ll all know about hereditary colon cancer syndromes.