Sunday, July 16, 2017
The Mission Walker: I was given three months to live by Edie Littlefield Sundby
Imagine yourself a strong, vibrant, intelligent woman, physically fit, an avid walker, and practitioner of yoga. You are 55, and have just returned from volunteer work in India with one of your daughters. The abdominal difficulties you experienced while there could easily be attributed to the change in diet, but they persist at home. It is then you discover you have stage 4 cancer of the gall bladder. The prognosis is grim. But, you are Edie Littlefield Sundby, and you are determined to fight, determined to live.
The Mission Walker is Edie's story, told in her own focused voice. Edie guides the reader through the early days of her diagnosis, into the maze of medical treatment, in which, in her determination not to let cancer claim her quickly, she blazed new trails. She blazed past the predicted three month survival. She kept seeking new options, holding fast to her faith and to her family; through multiple chemotherapy rounds, surgeries, through fighting tumors in different parts of her body, and fighting the side effects of the treatments to save her. And then, in remission and in gratitude, she decided to try to walk the California Mission Trail, grateful, thankful to be alive, hoping to light a candle at each of the 21 missions along the way, and thanking God with every step. Edie recounts the amazing journey of following the bells, not knowing how far she would go, leaving that to God, but determined to try.
Yet there's more to The Mission Walker. Edie was determined to walk the portion of El Camino Real that stretched into Mexico, starting from its beginning in Loreto. The mission trail there was not maintained like the one in California; the journey would be very different and very difficult. As she made her plans for this trek, two years after the start of her first walk, her cancer came back. In a three month window between a repeat scan after radiation and surgery, armed with all the information she could find, a well-crafted trail kit, determination, and faith, Edie began the walk that would complete her trek of the mission trail. It's an incredible story, an eye opening journey, also faith filled, but additionally a story of strength of every sort. It is just one more example of Edie's courage.
I have to add a disclaimer here: I know Edie. We met in 2012, and though we only spent one day together, it was a joyful one, celebrating the milestones of our children with our families. Edie and I didn't speak much that day. I knew a little of her story, but now realize where in that incredible fight she was. I was preoccupied, fighting my own medical diagnosis, focused more on the precautions I need to take daily to keep safe than on another's needs (which is a little embarrassing to admit, as I am a nurse, so my career has been focused on helping others with their health.) In the intervening years since we met, I followed her following the bells, but still didn't have a real grasp of the scope of her journey. It took this remarkable memoir to bring the journey, the strength of faith and character needed, into focus. Walk on, Edie. You walk strong. You walk with God. Thank you for letting us walk with you.