Rescued Through Early Detection
How a colonoscopy and a genetic discovery helped save a Navy veteran’s life and gave him a new mission.
We make critical decisions every day; little did I know early detection would spare me from cancer and give me a new life’s mission.
The choice to get a colonoscopy came to my attention, in part, because of my career in the Navy.
I served in the Navy as a communications specialist during Operation Desert Storm; Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. During my career I was assigned to seven ships, one of which sat in dry dock for more than 12 months after a deployment to the Persian Gulf—which is how I earned the nickname “dry dock.”
I retired after 22 years and before my 50th birthday the Veterans Administration in Hawaii recommended I get a colonoscopy.
It seemed wise and I was used to following orders, so I scheduled it.
This would prove my first and only colonoscopy.
An alarming discovery
When I woke up in the recovery room, my GI doctor was standing there holding several photographs of my stomach and colon. He had found more than 100 polyps embedded in my colon. Even more concerning, one of the polyps caused an 80 percent blockage in my transverse colon.
My doctor was already suspicious that something was wrong because I had mysteriously lost 14 pounds. And now, my coloscopy revealed this concerning reality, and my doctor ordered a DNA test and said I would probably need an ostomy, a surgically created opening in your abdomen that allows waste or urine to leave your body.
News from genetic counselor
Later, a genetic counselor told me the results of my test: I had Attenuated Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (AFAP), a rare genetic condition which significantly increases the chance of colon cancer and impacts an estimated .03 percent of the global population.
As a result, my doctor scheduled me for the ostomy.
Absorbing all of this news, I was shocked and concerned. But I quickly realized that all of this was out of my hands. I needed to trust the doctors and especially the Great Physician.
How I found hope, strength and peace
I have always believed that my life is in God’s hands and that there is reason for everything that happens. I grew up going to church there were several events in my early life that influenced me to give my life to God.
When I faced colon cancer and AFAP, my faith gave me hope. I felt a peace and calm, even when my circumstances were anything but calm.
In the Bible the book of Hebrews says faith is believing in what you can’t see. It’s like looking out the window and seeing the branches swaying. You can’t see the breeze, but you can see the effect of it.
And in my situation, I could see the effect of how God had orchestrated events that helped save my life: early detection and all of the medical professionals who helped me.
I had faith that I was going to overcome this adversity.
The biggest hurdle I faced was the ostomy surgery, which took more than six hours, zapped my energy and changed my body.
When I woke up, I had a nine-inch incision midline in my abdominal area.
The doctors speculate that I already developed stage 0 cancer but removing my colon and all of the associated lymph nodes, I was now cancer free.
I was sitting there in a hospital bed at a 45-degree angle for several days. I knew I would recover, but it was going to take some time.
Adapting to my ostomy
The next hurdle was learning how to adapt to life as an ostomate (check out his follow up story Hope for Ostomates).
I experienced lifestyle changes like, needing to plan ahead. I eat several small meals per day instead of the normal three. If I go on a road trip, I have to make sure I eat or drink ahead of time, otherwise I may need to stop and empty my pouch.
I do almost all of the things I did before I became an ostomate, which is great, including playing baseball. And I think attitude has a lot to do the quality of life I still enjoy.
My new mission
My life has been transformed as a result of my diagnosis. As a Navy veteran, I know what it is like to be on a mission. I have become an advocate for hereditary colon cancer and ostomy awareness, something that would never have happened if I had not experienced it myself.
I want to educate the world about my hereditary colon cancer syndrome and importance of early detection, continuing the legacy of Dr. Henry T. Lynch.
I like acronyms and here’s one I created as alternative for AFAP: Always Forge Ahead with a Purpose.
This message resonates deeply with me, because whatever happens, I think all we need to forge ahead and to adapt and be positive.
My vision is to share my story as a source of inspiration and encouragement to people in hopes of saving lives. Everyone has the opportunity to make the important choice about getting medical checkups. It’s their decision.
It was my decision to get a colonoscopy that saved my life through early detection. And it was also my decision to begin a relationship with God, which gives me hope.
I believe both of these decisions are critical for people.
They certainly have been for me.
If you would like to learn more about to begin a relationship with God, read Knowing God Personally.
For more help with finding strength outside of yourself, read Asking God for Help.