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Cancer Survivor Inspires Patients in Nepal

Declared cancer-free earlier this year, Sarah Coy joined the recent Above + Beyond Cancer mission trip to Nepal – with financial support from The Iowa Clinic Healthcare Foundation.

Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe

Declared cancer-free earlier this year, Sarah Coy joined the recent Above + Beyond Cancer mission trip to Nepal – with financial support from The Iowa Clinic Healthcare Foundation.

After being treated earlier this year for stage 2 breast cancer by The Iowa Clinic physicians and surgeons, Sarah Coy, 42, of Newton was declared cancer-free. She survived what she calls a “horrible struggle and huge challenge.” But through it, she learned to embrace each new day as a gift filled with new opportunities. That’s why – despite one-time fears — she applied to go on Above + Beyond Cancer’s mission trip to Nepal this past September.

After being accepted to go on the trip, Above + Beyond Cancer connected her with The Iowa Clinic Healthcare Foundation, which ultimately funded her trip.

“I’d never been out of the country before. I’d never traveled alone. I had been claustrophobic. So many things would have caused me anxiety (before having cancer). I just don’t worry about the little stuff anymore,” Coy says.

Coy, who is a nurse, was one of approximately 23 applicants selected to go inspire other cancer patients and advocate for healthy living in earthquake-ravaged Nepal. “I felt I needed to be on this trip; I could see (cancer) from both sides,” she says.

Delivering Hope

The trip occurred September 9–16, not long after two major earthquakes hit Nepal, which is located north of India in the Himalayas. Combined, the April and May quakes killed thousands and injured many others. Buildings collapsed, people were displaced from their homes, and feelings of terror and despair engulfed much of country.

Among the experiences that most impacted Coy were the country’s extreme poverty, archaic medical conditions, and the people’s resilience.

“For me, the conditions in which patients must go through their chemo is pretty unheard of. Things were unsanitary; the needles may have been reused. In Des Moines, I sat in an easy chair,” Coy says.

There seemed no better time or place to deliver messages of healing and hope.

Each day, the cancer survivors on this Above + Beyond Cancer trip began their service work at 5 or 6 in the morning and ended at 9 or 10 at night. “It was a crazy, hectic trip. We toured local hospitals, built a garden at a hospital, spent a lot of time connecting with cancer patients, and went to a children’s hospital where we gave out toys and blankets,” Coy says.

A Life-Changing Experience

Coy recalls the time spent in Nepal with great affection, even though she became “incredibly ill” for part of the trip.

She says, “I was there vomiting behind the bus. One of the ladies (on the trip) asked if I was okay. My response was ‘I have never felt more alive.’

“In this past year, I have overcome cancer. I hopped on an airplane, left my family behind, and flew 20 hours around the world all by myself to a country where I knew nothing about the people, their culture, or their language. To know I could do something like that – to go and make connections and offer hope – was pretty incredible for me,” Coy says.

“Only Good” Came From Having Cancer

Coy says “only good” came from her experience with cancer. “I was living my life to just get through the day. Cancer was a huge wake-up call. I came out a better person as a result – I realize life is a gift every day.

“We went to Nepal to teach (cancer patients) about survivorship, but they taught us about survivorship – not only in how they dealt with the aftereffects of earthquakes, but in how they got up every day with smiles on their faces,” she says.

“Hopefully, by the way I live my life and the nurse I continue to become, I can share their message of survivorship and gratitude,” she adds.

Coy says, “The Iowa Clinic providers saved my life, supported me through my treatment, and continue to support me through my survivorship.” Her care team included:

Founded in 2011, Above + Beyond Cancer is a local charity with the mission to elevate the lives of those touched by cancer, to create a healthier world.

Each year, Above + Beyond Cancer takes cancer survivors on transformational journeys around the globe, through which participants inspire the public by devoting themselves to lives of advocacy and being an example for healthy living and cancer prevention in their communities. For more information, visit

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