My name is Elizabeth and I never learned to swim so cancer to me has been like being thrown into the deepest part of a pool and told to learn to swim or drown.
I was born in Mexico. The youngest of 5. When I was three years old my mother migrated to the US and brought only me along. I have lived in TX ever since. San Antonio to be exact. Because of this I was pretty much raised as an only child. For a long time it was just my mom and I.
I have many wonderful memories of my mother. For example every Sunday we would wake up early, enjoy a home cooked breakfast. She was an amazing cook. Afterwards we would get all prettied up and go to church. She was Catholic. Once church was over we would pick a restaurant to go eat at. She favored seafood but we would try different things. As a kid I didn’t care much for seafood but now I love it! When we were done eating we would usually go listen to live music and do some dancing. She loved to sing and dance and I enjoyed dancing myself. We always did something on weekends and were hardly ever home. If it wasn’t listening to music you could find us at a park, a lake, the zoo or simply a friend’s or our own home. One thing about my mother is that she was a very outgoing person and would make friends wherever she went. Language was no barrier as she only spoke Spanish. She understood English but never felt comfortable speaking it. She’d still manage to communicate one way or another. Everytime Fiesta would come to town we would be there almost every day. This however was not only for fun. She would always find a way to make extra money so she made cascarones, flower crowns, necklaces and other fun things to sell during the festivities.
I also have fond memories about the big deal she would make about my birthday. As a kid she would throw me a party at a pizza place or a park. Anywhere I could enjoy some fun, games and food. As an adult the celebration did not stop but now she would cook my favorite food and buy my favorite cake and always managed to give me a gift. She was also adamant about celebrating on the actual day. She’d say your birthday is today not on the weekend! So there we were on a random Tuesday singing “Las Mananitas” the Spanish version of happy birthday. I remember that she always took lots of photos. Not only on birthdays and special occasions but all the time. Especially of her with her plants. She had a green thumb.I am grateful for that now because if my memory of her lovely face starts to fail I have many pictures to remember her by. I think that is why I am the same way now.
My mother was one of the strongest, most resilient women I have ever come across so when she went through ovarian cancer watching this rock of a woman dwindle away was one of the hardest most heartbreaking things I have ever had to endure. Fighting cancer myself included.
Fast forward to me. Now I am a mother to two amazing boys, ages 12 and 21. Two cute kitty cats and a pretty big dog. It is now my turn to go through this. And out of all the places I was referred to the very same cancer center I took my mom to just a few years back. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on April 15,2020 in the midst of a worldwide pandemic because why not. After all they say life only throws at you what you can handle. I am about 10 months into my treatments and still have a long road ahead. My boys and my husband will now experience the same thing I experienced with my mother. My heart breaks again. In my opinion mothers are a huge part of one's life and it is very difficult to go through life without one. I was lucky enough to have mine for thirty years of my life. I feel sad for those who never even get to have one. My husband has refused to find a new one for my kids and pets if he is widowed.
As I mentioned I was diagnosed right when the pandemic started. I’ve had to go to chemo treatments, surgeries,radiations, appointments etc. alone. No one has been allowed to be there with me. It has been difficult especially because I have such an amazing support system. I yearned to have my hand held while I was getting my infusions. A simple conversation to distract me would have been nice. I remember I was there with my mother through it all and wished the same for me. Life did not allow it though. There is a virus and we are all afraid to get it because it is deadly. I understand but still the fact remains. It has been hard to do this alone. However I was able to find comfort in the nurses in the chemo room. They got to know me fairly well. I love to read. Stephen King books are my favorite and one of the nurses gifted me two. Another nurse saw my love for cats and she gave me a calendar and a few other little gifts with cats on them.
We took all the precautions, We stayed home. Wore our masks. Everything that was recommended we did it all. None of it mattered. We still got COVID. My husband, my sons and yes even myself. Now I don’t only have to battle one beast but two! To add to that I lost my two cats while I was going through chemo. They were helping me cope. I found them therapeutic. I love my pets. I consider them my kids. They were a part of our lives for a very long time. My Tigger was 18 years old and my Superman (yes that was his name and he lived up to it) was 16. My husband saw how depressed I was with their loss so he had to act fast as my journey has yet to be over. He remembered me mentioning that I have always wanted a munchkin kitten. He researched that they have a pretty long lifespan. He found a sweet lady in Austin TX that had some available. We took the drive as a family, even my oldest son’s girlfriend came along. We went to get one kitten and ended up with two because cats are like potato chips. You can’t have just one. I am now the proud momma of two precious munchkin kittens. One was six weeks old and the other 8 weeks when we got them. They have certainly helped keep my mind occupied. My other cats will always have a piece of my heart but my husband has always told me that I have a big heart so there’s plenty of room for more.
My journey is ongoing. I have a few surgeries ahead, medicines I have to take and a lifetime of check ups. I am on a road and unsure how to navigate it as I don’t even want to be on it. I am however grateful to still be here. Grateful to have the strength to keep on driving. One of the hardest parts has been seeing my husband and my boys worry about what may happen to me and the thought they might lose me.
You live with cancer long after your treatment is finished. It’s just who you are now whether you want it or not. If I happen to pass from it now or later down the road don’t say that I lost my battle because that would imply that cancer won and beat me. In my opinion treating cancer is not like a fight in a boxing ring or a conflict that you battle on a battlefield. Describing it as such would suggest that success depends on strength and skill which I have neither of. I was just thrown in. I did not train for this. So instead of comparing it to a battle or a fight, it is ok to say that I’m living with cancer or to say that I recovered from it. Perhaps passed away from it. I am learning to swim and I am giving it my all.
Always Forge Ahead with a Purpose
My name is Dan Dry Dock Shockley, retired Navy, Operation Desert Storm; Enduring and Iraqi Freedom veteran and 9 year hereditary colon cancer WARRIOR.
In 2012, I underwent my first and only colonoscopy at 51 years of age, performed by the Pacific Islands Veterans Healthcare System, Hawai'i. The results revealed 100 polyps embedded throughout my colon, rectum and anus. I was immediately referred to the Certified Genetic Counselor, at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawai'i, for further evaluation to include germline DNA testing. It was thought I had hereditary colon cancer syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). However, the DNA test results would confirm the outcome.
My genetic counselor and colorectal surgeon discussed the mutation they thought I had, type of surgery and life with an ostomy. The DNA test results would take about three weeks to come back. In the meantime I was provided some resources to better understand my condition. As I initiated my personal research journey divided my efforts into three phases, DNA test results; type of surgery and life as an ostomate. I've found in life we have two choices: we can React or Respond. My
choice is to respond, by gathering information it affords me the opportunity to better prepare myself of making
logical and informed decisions.
My research efforts revealed there is limited information on the mutation. My mindset from the onset is I tend not to think of things I'm unable to control, such as medical conditions. 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.
It was at the six week point when the DNA test results arrived. My genetic counselor and colorectal surgeon scheduled a meeting to discuss the findings. It's important to to note my military experiences equipped me to adapt, improvise and overcome. I've faced personal and professional challenges. Maintaining a positive attitude has afforded me the
opportunity of overcoming adversity.
The DNA test results confirmed the diagnosis of attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis (AFAP), an autosomal dominant germline mutation. It's estimated that AFAP impacts less than .03% of the global population. Dr. Henry T. Lynch, the founding father of hereditary cancer research, is credited with discovering AFAP. My genetic counselor and colorectal surgeon were colleagues of Dr. Lynch.
Based on these findings it was in the best practice of medicine to undergo total-proctocolectomy w/ileostomy
surgery. Throughout this process my Certified Genetic Counselor and Colorectal surgeon encouraged me to read about the mutation, type of surgery, life as an ostomate and the routine opthomology examinations
and endoscopic procedures of my stomach and small intestine. Since I've researched my condition and discussed it w/my family and medical team, I was mentally prepared for the surgery.
It's important to note, I didn't have any symptoms or family history. Surgery was performed two weeks after receiving the DNA test results and one of the polyps was an 8cm tumor, Stage 0 cancer, which was successfully removed.
As I prepared for my life w/a hereditary colon cancer syndrome and a permanent ostomy, I adopted the following four words to reflect upon:
Attitude = 100. My positive attitude was vital in my ability to overcome adversity.
FAITH = Full Assurance Influenced Through Hope. An acronym I created after my diagnosis.
ADAPT = Attitude Determines the Ability for a Positive Transformation. An acronym I created after my diagnosis.
Purpose = Educate the world about FAP, continuing the legacy of Dr. Henry T. Lynch, on the importance of early detection in hopes of saving lives.
There seems to be a limited amount of information on hereditary colon cancer syndromes. My hopes are by sharing my journey it will benefit the medical
community in the coming years and decades.
Sharing my journey is important to me, being a source of inspiration and encouragement. By sending out positive thoughts, I receive them back tenfold.
I have a metaphor of LIFE and BASEBALL. What do they both have in common? LIFE and BASEBALL do not have a time limit. When a baseball game goes into extra innings, I think of it as free baseball. As a 9 year hereditary colon cancer WARRIOR, my life is in extra innings and I'm enjoying FREE BASEBALL.
In closing, there's an old cliche we may not be able 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.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
Always Forge Ahead w/a Purpose!