Cancer Survivor Edie Sundby’s 1600-Mile Journey to Spiritual Healing

By on August 10, 2017
Edie Sundby

By Vanessa Sheets–

When Edie Sundby’s doctors diagnosed her with stage 4 gallbladder cancer and told her she had three months to live, she decided that she wasn’t going to let cancer kill her spirit. In her new book The Mission Walker, Sundby shares her story of physical, spiritual, and emotional healing by walking the 1600-mile El Camino Real old mission trail from Loreto, Mexico, to Sonoma, California, after surviving 79 rounds and a million milligrams of chemotherapy and four major surgeries, including the removal of her right lung. 

The Abyss

Like many of us in our 50s, Edie Sundby ate a healthy diet and did all the right things to take care of herself. “I was arrogantly healthy,” she recalls. “I thought I was going to live to be 100.”

But after experiencing intense pelvic pain that led to an ultrasound and CT scan, Sundby learned she was ill with cancer that started in her gallbladder and had spread to her liver and other organs. 

“It felt like I’d been punched in the face,” says Sundby.

She spent six years undergoing radical surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation.

“I went to Stanford because they have leading edge technology and I knew that with stage 4 cancer that was so widespread and killing me so fast, if anyone was going to save me, Stanford Cancer Center would,” says Sundby. “They have the expertise and research to keep up with this cancer and they’ve been such a blessing. But they don’t know why I’m still alive ten years later after so much radiation and surgeries. I don’t know why I’m still alive.”

Within 20 hours following liver and stomach surgery, Sundby’s doctor told her she needed to get up and walk. 

“I was hooked up to three IVs, and I had wires sticking out all over me,” says Sundby. “I’d just had 60 percent of my liver removed.”

Still, with the help of nurses, Sundby made the painful walk into the hospital corridor. The next day, Sundby walked the entire corridor. 

“Doctors know that movement is wellness,” she says. 

When doctors removed her right lung, Sundby knew she had a choice. “I could diminish my life, or I could try to get as much out of my remaining lung capacity as I had left.”

Follow the Bells

Despite having never walked more than four miles, Sundby decided to trek the 800-mile El Camino Real mission trail starting near her home in San Diego and ending in Sonoma, stopping at the 21 missions along the way to heal her spirit.

“I began walking the trail to heal from lung surgery and the six years of being held hostage to cancer, says Sundby. “I was filled with fear and my body had been brutalized by chemo and surgery. I had to do something radical to transform and transcend that experience, and to live a less diminished life.”

Sundby’s walk was purposeful, stopping at each of the 21 missions to light candles in prayer. “I wanted to praise God for this beautiful gift of life, knowing how truly lucky I am to be alive.”

It took Sundby 55 days walking an average of 15 miles a day to make the journey from San Diego to Sonoma, six months after losing her right lung, her feet blistering and toenails turning black along the way. 

“There were days I had trouble breathing, but I knew if I kept walking, my lung capacity would expand,” recalls Sundby. “There were days where my lower back and hip hurt so bad I thought I would go into spasms, but I kept walking. After 400 miles, the pain all went away. My feet healed. I could climb a mountain with one lung and I could breath pretty close to normal.”

Sundby never listened to music or had her phone on while walking, and knew she had to stay alert and attentive to avoid being hit by 18-wheelers on dangerous highway stretches.

“The mindfulness increased the transcendent quality of the walk,” says Sundby. “I was totally in the now, with God, for 55 days and 800 miles. When I got to Sonoma, I was no longer walking- I was transcendent and I didn’t want to stop.”

Holy Ground

The last mission bell at the very end of the trail in Sonoma reads: Loreto, Mexico 1697. It’s a reminder that the capital of California was originally in Loreto, Mexico, where the old mission trail starts. Sundby knew when she saw that bell that she had to start where the trail began, but she didn’t know how she was going to do that, or when. 

“I prayed that God willing, I’d be able to finish the old mission trail,” says Sundby.

Two years later, Sundby’s cancer came back in her remaining lung and Sundby’s medical team at Stanford Cancer Center used radiation to burn the tumor. After that, she went back for a CT scan showing that everything looked good enough, so two weeks later Sundby flew to Loreto, Mexico to finish the remaining 800 miles of the trail from Loreto, Mexico to San Diego. 

“When you have cancer, you don’t think about doing stuff- you just have to do it,” says Sundby. “I didn’t know the difference between a mule, burrow, and horse, and I knew very little Spanish. But I didn’t have time to do any of that. If I wanted to finish my mission walk, I had to do it now.”

Sundby had a vision come to her in prayer and meditation:

“Through the grace of God and His medicine, I am healed,” says Sundby. “That became my prayer through every breath I take. You can be healed and not cured. You can be healed and die. But what that means is you can be whole in spirit. Don’t let cancer kill your spirit. Don’t let your spirit die.”

 

After enduring 79 rounds of chemo and defeating a three-month prognosis, with only one lung, Edie Sundby ‘The Mission Walker’ set out to attempt the impossible. For more information or to purchase the book click here: The Mission Walker
Vanessa Sheets

About Vanessa Sheets

Vanessa Sheets is a freelance journalist who specializes in fitness, health, and nutrition. She has written for True North, Natural Child, Newport Health, and Greenmaple Wellness and worked in public health as a community educator for a non-profit. She lives in Bend, Oregon.

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Cancer Survivor Edie Sundby’s 1600-Mile Journey to Spiritual Healing