Ostomy Support, Love and Giving Back
By Jeanine Gleba, UOAA Advocacy Manager
On November 11th the United States observes Veterans Day to honor all those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. This year at UOAA I’d like to shine a light on two Veterans with ostomies who now continue to serve as volunteer advocates with UOAA in the Advocacy Network. Most recently, they were able to raise ostomy awareness in the state of Texas by garnering not one, not two, but three proclamations from their town, County and the Governor!
Dan Shockley is an Operation Desert Storm; Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veteran. He served for 22 years in “the world’s greatest Navy” onboard 7 different ships. His last tour before retiring was after 9-11 on the ground in Bahrain in direct support of OEF and OIF between September 2001 – September 2003. In 2012 after his first and only colonoscopy revealed 100 polyps embedded in his colon, rectum and anus, he was diagnosed with a rare gene mutation known as attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis (AFAP). In July 2012 at 51 years of age, he had successful ileostomy surgery at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii.
Donna Desoto, Dan’s girlfriend, began her Military career in 1976. She was in the last basic training class of The Women’s Army Corps (WACS). She also attended the Medical Lab Assistant school at the Academy of Health Sciences at Ft. Sam Houston, TX. She was then chosen to join the medical research team at Headquarter Co Troop Command at Brook Army Medical Center under the Clinical Investigation Services. She co-invented a vaccine for burn patients and received The Army Commendation Medal for meritorious service of her research between 1976 to 1979. While serving in the military she was diagnosed with Chronic Interstitial Cystitis. After over a year of trying to save her bladder with an experimental drug instilled in her bladder surgically, she had urostomy surgery. She also had a stroke prior to that due to an allergic reaction to an unknown medicine. It took 25 plus surgeries before removing her bladder. She was in the hospital the whole time leading up to the final removal of her bladder and then was medically retired in 1981.
I recently caught up with them and asked the following questions:
UOAA: How did you two meet and become a couple?
Dan: Donna and I met on the Singles with Stomas Facebook group in the summer of 2016. We commented on each other’s posts. In the following months we developed a friendship based on our commonalities. We’re both retired military, left-handed, interested in medical research, and of Scottish descent. In May 2018 she called me suggesting it was time for us to get together. At the end of July I relocated to South Texas to be with her.
UOAA: Such a great story!
UOAA: How did you get involved in UOAA?
Dan: My involvement began as an inpatient at Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, after my surgery. Tripler’s WOC nurse shared with me information about United Ostomy Associations of America. At that point I was eager to share my diagnosis and story with others and UOAA and become an advocate.
UOAA: It’s so important for people to realize that they can make an impact when they do share their story whether it is inspiring someone else or making the journey a little easier for someone questioning life with an ostomy. There is also a big need in our advocacy efforts especially legislatively because elected officials want to help their constituents who the issues directly affect and hear their stories. We can raise so much more awareness when we grow in numbers.
UOAA: Why do you advocate for ostomates?
Dan: My life’s focus as a colon cancer warrior, having a rare gene mutation and an ostomy is to be a source for the importance of early detection. It’s also important to me to show that life can go on having an ostomy. I consider my diagnosis a challenge rather than obstacle. That said, there’s an old cliche you can lead a horse to water, however you can’t make it drink. I’ve heard there is a way to influence the horse to drink when it reaches the watering hole. Feed it salt along the way. Hopefully my story will serve as a source of salt for those who read it.
Donna: The main reason I feel the importance of advocating for ostomates is because I feel increasing awareness is very important and other more well known causes get lots of awareness whereas I see that many people have little or no knowledge of what an ostomy is. Also, I see a need legislatively for ostomates in areas that should be addressed especially one area I have experienced is the usage of restrooms and other public issues.
UOAA: Why is it important for people to get involved?
Dan: Projecting a positive outlook is important to me. Having an ostomy is a lifesaving surgery. By sending out positive vibes I receive them back tenfold. I may have been diagnosed with AFAP but my AFAP mantra is: Always Forge Ahead with a Purpose!
Donna: Being involved with UOAA and my other volunteer efforts (Donna founded Sav-Baby Inc.) has helped me to take my mind and focus away from my medical challenges and pain and allows me the opportunity to reach out to those struggling with their current or ongoing medical issues. Not only can I hopefully be an inspiration to others it is also an opportunity to make new friends and encourage them to get involved in some way such as a being a friend to someone else or becoming an advocate or volunteer.
UOAA: And you and Dan certainly became friends! One of the most significant things that UOAA does is provide support through our Affiliated Support Groups. It is one of the top reasons that we get calls into our 800 information line. People are looking for emotional support and to meet others going through similar experiences so they can learn from each other.
Dan: I’ve been a member of UOAA support groups in Eagle, Idaho; Carmichael, California, Honolulu, Hawaii and now both of us just started attending meetings at the South Texas Ostomy group in San Antonio, TX.
UOAA: Do you talk about your ostomy and/or military experience with others?
Dan: I share my ostomy and military experiences every opportunity that presents itself. As a “live case presentation” for the medical community and ostomy groups I feel it is important to show life can go on as if nothing happened. Being a source of inspiration and encouragement is important to me. It’s been said we’re unable to change the wind. However, we can adjust our sails. After 22 years in the Navy I’m good at adjusting. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Donna: I talk freely with others about my ostomy. I am no longer ashamed or embarrassed. I am so proud to be a Canadian who became a US Veteran and citizen. I participate in both military and ostomy groups. I try my hardest not to let my ostomy limit anything I choose to do in my life.
UOAA: What does Veterans Day mean to you?
Dan: Veterans Day is when I reflect on and recognize those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our 13 stripes and 50 stars. My father served in the Army during WWII, two of my uncle’s served in the Navy and 1 uncle served in the Marines during the Korean War. My brother served in the Air Force during the Vietnam conflict.
Donna: Veterans Day is a very emotional day for me for so many reasons. My thoughts and prayers go out to all our Sisters and Brothers who lost their lives for our freedom, as well as those currently serving, those now retired and all of their loved ones. The real special part of Veterans Day for me is that I was born in Canada. After college I decided to join the US Army and officially become a US citizen. I was so proud the day I became a US citizen and that same proudness was felt when I took my path to become a volunteer member of the US Army. When my two adopted children were little and my little girl that I saved from abandonment was old enough I would tell them that I was “an Alien who wore combat boots”. They loved to share that story with their friends. My Uncle enlisted in the British Army and his submarine was lost during the war. His mother, my Grandmother, who brought me up in the United States was so sad on Veterans Day as it was forever painful losing her oldest son.
UOAA: You are both a reminder to me of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, when he said the infamous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” You both embody “service”.
As Advocacy Manager I am in the unique position to not only hear many amazing ostomy stories of resilience but also to watch many passionate and fascinating people as they take action and work together to achieve a common good cause for our community. It is truly an honor and a privilege for me to work alongside such dedicated, impressive and patriotic volunteers like Dan and Donna.
Thank you to all Veterans who have or are actively serving America! Happy Veterans Day!
“Here’s my UOAA acronym:” ~ D. Shockley
Understand (your diagnosis)
Attitude = 100%
Adapt (to your lifestyle as an ostomate)