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  • Writer's pictureDan "Dry Dock" Shockley

Stay positive, keep the faith, and find your purpose - by Dan “Dry Dock” Shockley

Veteran, advocate, colon cancer survivor, and pancreatic cancer previvor, Dan "Dry Dock" Shockley shares his perspective after cancer.

Dan “Dry Dock” Shockley is a retired Navy, Operation Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom veteran. He is a 12-year hereditary colon cancer syndrome WARRIOR and 3-year pancreatic cancer pre-vivor.

Challenges like my AFAP diagnosis are opportunities, not obstacles that can’t be overcome.

It was during a routine colonoscopy at age 51 in 2012 that they found over 100 polyps embedded throughout my colon, rectum and anus. After gene sequencing DNA testing I was diagnosed with Attenuated Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (AFAP), a subtype of Familial Adenomatous Polyposis. This rare genetic condition is an autosomal dominant germline mutation. Dr. Henry T. Lynch, the founding father of hereditary cancer research, is credited with the discovery of AFAP. It's estimated to affect less than .03 percent of the worldwide population.

Being intrigued by this diagnosis I took things in stages. First, by reading about the mutation to better understand this disease, then I had the surgery to remove my colon, rectum and anus and create a permanent ileostomy. Second, embracing life as an ostomate. Thirdly, understanding this rare mutation and the impact it will have on my life.​

During my 22-year Navy career, I learned that mental and physical strength are important attributes, especially in the face of personal or professional adversity. My training has taught me that being informed, prepared and maintaining a positive attitude while committed to the mission is instrumental in achieving success.

​“I also learned early on to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.“

There is an old cliché: “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.” I once heard there is a flip side to this saying. You can influence a horse to drink the water by providing it salt on the way. When I think of this expression it serves as a constant reminder to me that there are many references in the Bible pertaining to salt. In numerous contexts, it is used metaphorically to be a sign of permanence, loyalty, fidelity, value, purification, durability and usefulness. Of these, the contexts of durability and usefulness have had a direct impact in my life. 

When faced with challenges, both professionally, personally and physically, 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 that can’t be overcome.

Moving forward, I have been able to overcome this medical challenge, adapt to my new life style and press on with my life with a business as usual approach. I maintain the same attitude today and share it every opportunity I have. I draw my strength being an example of the "salt of the earth” and realize the type of difference I know I can make in my life. I truly believe attitude determines the ability for a positive transition. My daily life is the reason for my durability and usefulness as the salt of the earth. 

“​​I have always had a great sense of faith – and feel that everything is for a purpose…this is my purpose. I’ve always had faith in my family, my fellow comrades, and my medical team.“

I feel blessed to have been able to live a life with purpose. Worrying did not cause my condition and worrying will not make it go away. As mentioned earlier, I look at having AFAP as a challenge rather than an obstacle. My mindset has been and continues to be not to think about the things I am unable to control, such as medical conditions. What I can control is my attitude – which has always been and will remain positive.

My positive attitude had a direct impact on my faith, adapting to life as an ostomate, and my purpose in life. That said, I’ve adopted four words I reflect on daily: Attitude; FAITH; ADAPT and Purpose.


Maintaining a positive attitude is instrumental in overcoming adversity


Full Assurance Influenced Through Hope (An acronym I created after my diagnosis.)


Attitude Determines the Ability for a Positive Transformation (An acronym I created shortly after my ostomy surgery.)


My purpose is to educate medical students and professionals about hereditary colon cancer syndromes and the importance of early detection continuing the legacy of Dr. Henry T. Lynch, in hopes of saving lives.

It's been said that faith is eminence of the unseen. Example: We can see the tree branches swaying in the breeze. However, we’re unable to see the breeze, just the effect of it. My positive attitude and strong faith had a direct impact on my ability to adapt to life as an ostomate with a rare disease. My mantra is a positive spin on a bleak diagnosis: Always Forge Ahead with a Purpose. Stay positive, keep the faith and find your purpose.

“My positive attitude and strong faith had a direct impact on my ability to adapt to life as an ostomate with a rare disease.“

In closing, here’s my analogy of life and baseball. What do they both have in common?​Neither has a time limit. If the baseball game goes into extra innings, I think of it as free baseball. My life as a colon cancer WARRIOR is in extra innings. Therefore, I’m enjoying free baseball.

I have come to realize when life throws us a curve, it is a personal choice on how you handle it. That's my story and I’m sticking to it.

Always Forge Ahead with a Purpose!

California Senator Roger Niello authored Senate Concurrent Resolution-109: designating March as CRC Awareness Month in California. Dan and some of his colleagues were invited to the Capitol by Senator Niello when he introduced this measure on the Senate Floor. It passed unanimously, 34-0.


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