Stories of Courage


Meet the 2019 Courage Ride Patient Honoree: Parker Kress

My name is Parker Kress, and I’m a cancer survivor. I was told on Dec. 6, 2014, that doctors suspected I had a type of sarcoma. I was 13 years old. It all started one night when I felt unexplained pain in my right ankle….

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Seth A. Bailey

In November 1995, seventeen-year-old Seth Bailey was passionate about sports. A junior at Iowa Mennonite High School, he was surprised when a sore leg turned into something serious. A diagnose of soft-tissue synovial sarcoma cancer came as a shock to all who knew Seth. His family and friends rallied around him while he learned that his best chance to defeat cancer was...

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Abbey Almelien

Abbey Almelien has never been happier in her life! She calls herself “Princess Abbey” because of all the love and support that surrounds her. Abby looks forward to her life; she has no responsibilities to distract from her appreciating every moment as it comes along, she has a strong faith and a new boyfriend who shares her understanding about what really matters in life...

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Andrea Koopman

It all started in the Fall of 2009 when my left ankle seemed a bit swollen. I shrugged it off for a few months thinking I must have landed on my foot wrong after getting off my bicycle one day. The swelling didn't get better and there seemed to be something hard under the swelling. On Halloween when my husband and I had our engagement photos taken, I remember my ankle hurt...

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Anne Bruflat

It had been growing steadily for several months -- from the size of a lima bean to a walnut. I had been to three different doctors who all said the same thing.."don't worry about it - it is a sebaceous cyst and is harmless". Music to my ears --- a busy mom tying up loose ends getting ready to move cross country (house on the market, finishing out kids school year, saying goodbye...

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Bob Volz

In May of 2014, Bob Volz was a happy and healthy 34-year-old husband to Katie and father to two little boys, PJ (3) and Henry (1). Some chest pains over Memorial Day weekend concerned him enough to get a chest X-ray. Next thing he knew, Bob was diagnosed with a rare sarcoma (Pleomorphic Rhabdomyosarcoma) in his chest....

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Cynthia Thayer

Hello - My name is Cynthia Thayer. I am a 41 year old mother of 3 who has been a Leiomyosarcoma soldier since 2006. I was diagnosed after being treated for what was believed to be uteran fibroids. During a routine exam with my gynocologist, it was decided to proceed with a procedure that will help me with some monthly issues. I was experiencing...

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Dan Sorrell

Dan Sorrell’s story began in December, 2003. After spitting up blood, he was diagnosed with acid reflux. Then, in November, 2005, with a recurrence, a tumor was found in his airway. After additional testing at Mercy Hospital the doctor said, ‘There is nothing we can do for you here. You have a tumor about the size of a grapefruit in your lung...

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Devin Martz

2017 Courage Ride Patient Honoree

In May of 2016, 10 year-old Devin Martz was diagnosed with osteosarcoma cancer in his left leg after being seen for what his family initially thought was a knee injury from playing football. This is where Devin's sarcoma story begins...

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Elene Heeren

In October 2006, my husband Duane and I moved from southwest to central Iowa to be two and a half hours closer to each of our four children and their families. Coming along with me was a bone on bone right knee needing replacement and two rather large lumps. One lump was on my left shoulder and had been diagnosed at Mayo in 1995 as a...

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Emma Will

Emma was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, in August of 2009 at the age of 17. She received treatment through the Mayo Clinic and St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota...

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Fletcher Summa

I sat in the waiting room on February 8, 2013 in the Cancer Center preparing to tell Dr. Mo that I didn’t want to do this anymore. My treatment was entering the 11th month and my body was bloated and scarred and bore little resemblance to my pre-diagnosis self. I looked around the waiting room and I focused on what I wanted to say to Dr. Mo and settled in to wait for my name to be called...

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Hannah First

Hannah was a black belt in tae kwon do, and when she began to experience leg pain, the last thing we ever thought was cancer. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 11.

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Jessica Sergeant

My adventure with cancer began six years ago in 2007 when I was just 25. I had just got married eight months before my first diagnosis, we were settling into our first home that we purchased and had all the hopes and dreams of starting a family. I am a long distance runner and had done my first marathon in 2005. I was extremely active in martial arts also.

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Jim Burkhart

In January of 2011, my husband Jim Burkhart felt a lump on the back of his left thigh. After seeing his physical therapist, Jim was sent in for an MRI, which led to a biopsy. In April of 2011, Jim was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma and in May of that year, he had his left leg amputated in attempts to give him the best chance at life…

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Kelly Bender

I met Kelly VanderWerff in 2002 on a blind date arranged by a mutual friend. I was immediately drawn to her intelligence, sense of humor, and exuding optimism....

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Kelsey Lee

In June of 2004, at the age of 14, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Synovial Cell Sarcoma with Mets to my lungs. I underwent 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 8 weeks of radiation treatments. After treatments and surgeries I was thought to be cured. Then in March of 2006, at the age of 16, I was diagnosed with Biphenotypic Leukemia. They believe this was caused by...

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Minde Strief

2018 Courage Ride Patient Honoree

I am sharing my journey for Sarcoma Awareness Month to help support what University of Iowa Health Care does to continually make strides to find cures and improve lives, and to reach out to others around the world who need hope, advice, a shoulder to cry on, laughter to get them through the tough times.

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Nathan Detweiller

In September 2004, Nathan Detweiller had a bicycle accident while attending college in Indiana. His bike hit a tree and Nathan was flipped over the handlebars! Nathan sought medical attention and through the course of the workup a chest x-ray revealed some enlarged lymph nodes...

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Nick Peck

Almost one third of Nick’s short life was spent searching for a treatment that would help him overcome cancer. He modeled determination, courage, strength, amazing fortitude, constant faith and a wonderfully positive attitude. He inspired others by never complaining about pain until it was so severe he couldn’t stand it. He focused on what he could do rather than feel sorry about what he couldn’t do…

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Nik Jiruska

2015 Courage Ride Patient Honoree

My name is Nikolas Jiruska and I recently finished receiving chemotherapy treatments to fight a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma. This disease primarily affects children and adolescents, but I was diagnosed...

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Peyton Harvey

Peyton Harvey is a 15 year old young man from Marshalltown, Iowa. He attends East Marshall High School and will be a sophomore this year. He is active in East Marshall sports in Football and Track. He is also on the improv team. He is very active and his favorite activities are video games, golf, hunting, fishing, hiking and rock climbing. His favorite teams are the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Oakland Raiders...


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Rachel Debeer

As I recall, the aching at the back of my left leg - a bit above the knee - began in May of 2008. It was not very painful, just a nuisance. It did not interfere with my daily routines, and I thought I had just strained a muscle while working out on the equipment at Curves. I told myself that it would eventually resolve itself. Whenever I had to bend the leg, such as when...

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Trent Phillips

2016 Courage Ride Patient Honoree

My story began early in 2015. After slipping on a patch of ice, I noticed a large lump in my left thigh. At 34 years old, still with a young man’s false sense of immortality, I didn’t think much of it, passing it off as a pulled hamstring. As weeks turned into months, my condition slowly became more of an issue. After stern encouragement from my wife, I reluctantly went to our local clinic in June to get a doctor’s opinion....

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