An advocate and Navy veteran shares about how people with ostomies can live with hope and enjoy quality of life.
Dan “Dry Dock” Shockley
(Navy Veteran and Ostomy Warrior)
Being an ostomate is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.
So says Dan “Dry Dock” Shockley, a Navy Veteran, Colon Cancer Advocate and Ostomy Warrior who wants to help set the record straight about the stigmas surrounding this life saving surgery.
An ostomate refers to person who has had an ostomy, an artificial opening in an organ of the body, created during an operation such as a colostomy, ileostomy, or gastrostomy.
Many people choose to get this surgery due to health issues, including cancer. However, some people opt out because they are scared about how it will change their body and lifestyle.
Dan had an ostomy in 2012 and since then has been on a mission to help educate and encourage people about them.
Hope Has Arrived recently asked Dan several questions about ostomies. He shares about how ostomates can live with hope and enjoy quality of life.
Q: What are some of the stigmas associated with being an ostomate?
Here are some of the big ones: everyone will know that a person is wearing an ostomy pouch; only older people have ostomies; ostomates are disabled and can’t work; people with an ostomy can only eat certain food; people wearing an ostomy pouch smell; people with an ostomy can’t be intimate and people with an ostomy are homebound because there pouch leaks. These stigmas are actually myths. Check out this helpful resource about the facts vs. myths of ostomies.
Q: Why did you choose to get one?
My permanent ostomy is a result of being diagnosed with a hereditary colon cancer syndrome Attenuated Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (AFAP), a rare genetic condition which significantly increases the chance of colon cancer. They discovered this after my first and only colonoscopy at 51 years of age. I had no symptoms or family history. You can read my Story of Hope here (coming soon).
Q: What are some challenges that ostomates face?
There is a learning curve to being self-sufficient. Daily activities can be a challenge and planning is important. However, they don’t have to be an obstacle. I’ve learned when to expect to empty or change my ostomy pouch. When traveling, I gauge my food and drink intake, to minimize having to make frequent restroom stops. Daily I consume up to six small meals. Bringing along a travel bag with ample ostomy supplies is also important.
Q: How have you been able to overcome these obstacles?
The United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA), and the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses Society (WOCN) have online resources that have been invaluable to me through the years (see links at the end of this article).
My positive attitude has also been instrumental in my being able to overcome adversity. I once heard we have two choices in life, we can react or respond. By responding we are able to gather information so we can make a logical decision. Whereas, reacting would be making a decision in an unprepared manner, which we may regret later.
My military experiences equipped me to plan for the worst and hope for the best. There’s an old cliche, we’re unable to change the direction of the wind, we must adjust our sails. After 22 years in the Navy I’m good at adjusting.
Q: You mentioned a positive attitude. Can you explain more about how you have been able to maintain that?
Having an ostomy means I’ve been given a new lease on life. I’ve embraced my diagnosis and having an ostomy from the onset. My mindset is I tend not to think of things I’m unable to control, such as medical issues. What I can control is my positive attitude. After five decades on God’s green earth my positive attitude has brought me this far, so why change now?
Q: You have said that your surgery saved your life and you compare it to “free baseball.” Can you explain that more?
I like to use the 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 consider it as free baseball. That said, my life as a colon cancer warrior is in extra innings. Therefore, I’m enjoying FREE BASEBALL.
Q: What would you say to someone who is considering getting an ostomy?
My suggestion for someone facing ostomy surgery is to maintain an open dialogue with your family and medical team. Do your research and familiarize yourself with the type of surgery and care required as an ostomate. If you have questions, make sure you ask your doctor. The key is to gather as much information as possible pertaining to your diagnosis and surgery options.
Q: What you would want to share with ostomates/potential ostomates about hope?
Hope is having a positive expectation that things will turn out for good and an optimistic state of mind for overcoming adversity. Furthermore, hope is believing in something we’re unable to see. Example: We can look at the palm trees swaying in the breeze. However, we’re unable to see the breeze, we see its affect. My hope has helped me adapt to life as an ostomate and be a source of inspiration and encouragement to others.
Q: How else would you like to encourage ostomates?
Shortly after my ostomy surgery I adopted four words I reflect on often.
- Attitude– My positive attitude was vital in my ability to overcome adversity being diagnosed with a hereditary colon cancer syndrome and having to undergo permanent ostomy surgery. Furthermore, my positive attitude had a direct impact on my strong faith.
- FAITH– Full Assurance Influenced Through Hope. An acrostic inspired by Hebrews 11:1. Faith is believing in something we’re unable to see, which leads to having hope. My positive attitude had a direct impact on my strong faith, which directly impacted my being able to adapt to life as an ostomate.
- ADAPT– Attitude Determines the Ability for a Positive Transformation. This is another acronym I penned shortly after my ostomy surgery. My positive attitude, strong faith, being able to adapt to life as an ostomate had a direct impact on my purpose in life.
- Purpose– Sharing my ostomy journey locally, nationally as well as internationally is important to me. There’s a flip side to the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” You can influence the horse by feeding it salt along the way, so it will be thirsty when it reaches the watering hole. My hopes are, by sharing my journey it will be a source of salt for those who read or hear about it.
Q: Speaking of faith, how do your spiritual beliefs help you?
My strong faith directly impacted my positive attitude, which was vital for me being able to adapt to life as a permanent ostomate. Having faith in my certified genetic counselor and colorectal surgeon was instrumental as well as my family and colleagues. However, God is the Great Physician and Great Counselor. I put my trust and faith in the Lord daily. My faith helped me to understand my condition; overcome adversity; maintain a positive attitude and adapt to life as an ostomate.
Q: Any other thoughts for people facing this journey?
It’s important that you try to prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally for this journey. My personal motto is “always forge ahead with a purpose.” If you notice, these four words are part of the acronym for AFAP, which is the genetic condition I have that I previously mentioned.
I think these words are important for ostomates. As you face your journey, how can you take action, live productively and be purposeful? Your attitude will have a lot to do with it. You also need to be a self advocate and do your research and then place it in God’s hands.
Wherever your road takes you, may you always forge ahead with a purpose.
Dan “Dry Dock” Shockley is Navy Veteran, a Colon Cancer Advocate and Ostomy Warrior who has been featured in many health-related articles and podcasts. You can find him on Facebook here.
He recommends the following websites for ostomates:
For help with finding spiritual hope read these articles on Hope Has Arrived: