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Cancer Survivor on a Mission Reaches SCU, On Foot

Tuesday, Apr. 9, 2013

Wearing sturdy hiking boots lined with lambs wool and guided by an iPhone mapping program, Edie Sundby will arrive at Santa Clara University on Wednesday, April 10, and proceed directly to Mission Santa Clara de Asis in the middle of the campus. Inside, she will light a candle.

Her visit comes after seven weeks of walking California’s historic, 800-mile Mission Trail, beginning in San Diego and stopping at each mission along the way. She hopes to reach the 21st and last mission – San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma – around April 20.

Edie calls her long walk a “spiritual pilgrimage” and a life-affirming journey meant to inspire and encourage people battling incurable cancer. The candles she lights at each mission are “in thanksgiving and gratitude for the gift of life,” and to recognize the family, friends and doctors who have helped her overcome some staggering odds.

Six years ago, Edie was diagnosed with Stage 4 gall bladder cancer. She was told she had a two percent chance of survival and was given three months to live. “I decided that wasn’t long enough, and started to fight back,” she explained. “And I began to walk to stay alive; I’ve been walking ever since.”

She credits walking with helping her get through 79 chemotherapy treatments, radical liver and lung surgeries and intensive radiation.

Edie’s long struggle to defy the dismal odds of beating back late-stage cancer ended earlier this year when she was finally declared cancer-free. To celebrate, she laced up her hiking boots and headed for the old El Camino Real trail. The original mission route no longer exists, so her smart phone provides maps for each day’s trek. She’s accompanied by her husband Dale, two friends in a camper van, and an abiding faith in God.

Although she is moved by the peace and beauty of the missions – and by the welcome that usually awaits her – Edie said her walk “is about the journey, not the destination.”

On average, she logs about 15 miles a day, walking around three miles an hour. “It’s exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.”

It usually takes Edie from one to five days to cover the distance between missions, and on foot, the route along busy highways and up and down steep hills, can be treacherous.

But, most surprising to her, a person who admittedly never excelled at sports, is how her body has adjusted to the strenuous daily walking regimen. “It heals as I walk,” she noted. “Blisters heal. Leg cramps go away. Discomfort in hip flexors goes away after about two weeks. The feet feel less pain after 570 miles than they did after the first 100 miles. The body is amazing! It seeks to heal itself.”

Upon arriving in Santa Clara, Edie said, “I’ll look forward to connecting with the people and sharing their love, passion and pride for the mission.” Throughout her travels, she has found that “people love the missions, and almost everyone in California has a favorite one; they are each and every one a treasure.”

After resting for a day, Edie will begin the next leg of her journey, a stretch that she’s happily anticipating. “After Mission Santa Clara, I walk to Mission San Jose,” she said. “It’s only 15 miles away!”

(Edie’s progress can be tracked on her Facebook page, and she welcomes anyone to join her along the route.)

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