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Fighting Cancer Against All Odds

With faith and a positive attitude, Edie Sundby continues to outsmart stage IV cancer

Sitting on an examining table, Edie took a breath and asked, "How much?" Remembering the moment today, she touches her belly. "He indicated that there was a lot. He said, 'Multiple places.' I knew immediately it had metastasized."

There were as many as 50 fast-growing tumors — in her gallbladder, where doctors believe that the cancer originated, and on her liver, her colon, her bowel and her lungs. What stood out among the details the physician offered that day was that one of the tumors appeared to be seven inches long. "Whoa," was all Edie could say. The doctor told her she probably had just three months to live. "He said the disease was incurable, with limited treatment options that would only delay the inevitable," Edie recalls. "He advised me to think about palliative care and to start planning for hospice."

Stunned, Edie stumbled to the parking lot and called Dale from her car phone. The intercontinental connection was scratchy. "Dale, I just saw the doctor, and I'm full of tumors," she blurted out. "It's cancer. I need you to come home."

For a few seconds the line was silent. Then Dale said, "OK, I'm on my way." Immediately he set out on a two-day journey to get back to Edie. Waiting for him to arrive, she at first felt sheer terror. In an attempt to gain some control, she started writing about her life. Raised Southern Baptist, she also turned to prayer. "At the end of those two full days," she says, "I reached closure. If my life was going to terminate in three months, I was very accepting of that. Of course, it's a philosophical acceptance, but I felt great peace."

Edie may have been accepting of the specter of death, but she wasn't going to stop living. She'd always been a fighter.

She grew up in small-town Cyril, Oklahoma, the daughter of struggling farmers. There were 12 children in all (more hands to pick their cotton crop), and Edie was second to youngest. In a family so large, there's no such thing as hovering parents, and she learned to take care of herself. She worked hard to up her odds of moving beyond Oklahoma, though she remains close with a circle of hometown friends, who, upon learning of her cancer battle, established a prayer group for her. "We call ourselves prayer warriors," says Ronald Janousek, a retired teacher. "Edie and her family didn't always have the best, but she never had a bad word to say about anyone. And she's one strong lady."

The summer after high school, Edie sold Bibles door-to-door to help pay for college. The typical sales rep averaged three sales per day, but Edie routinely topped that, netting a then-whopping $10,000 before heading to the University of Oklahoma. Upon graduation, she landed a job at IBM, where, in a 1975 training session, she met Dale. "We competed the whole session to be number one in the class," Edie remembers. "Dale edged me out! We were both ambitious risk takers, but we laughed a lot, too." Five months later, they married and moved in together in Moline, Illinois.

Edie was better at sales than anyone Dale had ever seen. "It's because she's mindful," Dale observes. "She doesn't waste a day." Equally charismatic, Dale ended up heading IBM's Palo Alto office just as the Silicon Valley was taking off, and Edie accepted an executive position at AT&T in San Francisco. But in 1984 they decided to leave their corporate jobs and venture out as software entrepreneurs, settling in San Diego, where, in 1988, they had their twin girls. They experienced huge business successes, as well as some failures, and never lost their drive. In 2007, with Whitney in college and Stefanie taking a year off, they were optimistic about their next project: developing a financial-services platform using software developers in Ukraine.

Then cancer came calling.

Next: Fighting the terminal cancer prognosis. »

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