When Edie Littlefield Sundby was diagnosed with stage 4 gallbladder cancer, doctors told her she had three months to live. She felt as if she was standing “on the precipice of death, and wondered, What can I do? How can I live?” Sundby chose to fight the cancer because she loved life.
Raised by devout Christian parents on a hardscrabble Oklahoma farm, the second-youngest of 12 children, Sundby learned what it meant to be truly rich in a situation onlookers might have considered to be desperately poor. Faith in God, love of family, the chance to roam freely, and a spiritual connection to the land empowered her as a child and, later, as an adult dealing with cancer.
While Sundby transitioned to life as a cancer patient, an idea formed in her mind. Always having felt closest to God while walking in the wilderness, she decided to travel as much of the 1,600-mile El Camino Real mission trail along the California and Mexico coastline as God would allow her to.
With the help of family, friends, prayer supporters, vaqueros (trail guides for the rough desert and mountain terrain), and kind strangers, Sundby made her way on foot or by riding a mule, horse, or occasionally in a truck. She stopped at each mission along the trail, no matter how dilapidated. She experienced desert heat and cold, walls of cactus, sleeplessness, hunger, both physical and spiritual exhaustion, and the dangers of wild creatures and exposure to nearby drug smugglers. About eight years after receiving her diagnosis, her dream was realized.
Upon completion of her journey, she recalls in her book, Sundby knew she faced more scans and medical procedures. But because of all that God helped her overcome, she no longer felt afraid of death. The mission walk was her “transition point, where I moved beyond disease, where I found stillness of mind, where I surrendered to grace, and where, through grace, the fear of death was slowly replaced by peace.” (Thomas Nelson)