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Fighting Cancer Against All Odds

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

Fisher says the chance that someone with advanced gallbladder cancer that had spread as far and wide as Edie's will survive for five years is well under 5 percent. Perhaps that's why Shrager ventures to offer that Edie may have a shot at being "cured." But when Dale gives his groggy wife the fantastic surgery result later that evening, the words she hangs on to are, "Your lung capacity should be close to normal."

For five years Edie has learned to count even her smallest blessings. "With cancer, life takes on new awareness," she explains. "Everything becomes more precious — our time, family, friends, faith and even work. Cancer has allowed me to make peace."

Edie sitting in her apartment in Palo Alto post-op.

Edie recuperates from surgery at home in Palo Alto. — Brad Swonetz

Days later, recuperating in her Stanford apartment, Edie begins to comprehend that the surgery's success will affect her future, and she takes stock. She's looking forward to allowing Dale to return to his entrepreneurial pursuits. She wants to give Stefanie, who's wrapping up a neuroscience degree at Stanford, and Whitney, who graduated last spring as a neurophilosophy major, a respite. "Life with a catastrophic disease is catastrophic for the whole family," Edie says. "Children and spouses live every day of our illness preparing psychologically for death. The anticipatory grief is often overwhelming."

Edie also wants to give herself some time to live life apart from the disease. Early in 2013 she hopes to launch Skin Jolie, a beauty line she's been developing. But she plans to remain vigilant, undergoing regular scans and keeping an eye on a suspicious spot that has appeared on her thyroid. If the cancer grows again, she will jump into action.

Sitting in an easy chair in her apartment, Edie dumps a packet of sugar into her teacup. She smirks. "I know, sugar causes cancer!" Turning serious, she asks, "Do I think I may be cured? I wouldn't bet on it. I don't want to go there that fast. I think I'm on the path to a cure. We're getting closer."

In the end, Edie says, cancer outliers like her share one hope: that they'll survive long enough for the big breakthrough. "We're just waiting for the day we'll wake up and there'll be a headline that they've found the cure," she says. Meanwhile, as more of the friends she's met along the way at cancer and chemotherapy centers succumb, Edie pushes on. Ten days after her lung surgery, she and Dale set out for a 3.7-mile hike at "The Dish," where a steep trail loops around a radio telescope in the Stanford foothills. The surrounding undulating terrain is dotted with oak and pepper trees. Tiny squirrels burrow in the scrub brush, a deer forages on a hilltop and a tarantula scurries across the footpath.

Edie puts in her earbuds and trudges up the first incline. She admits that her lungs are burning. "Then, amazingly, I am able to breathe deeply," she says. "With Elvis singing gospel, it's easy to finish the walk. I feel so fortunate."

Standing beside her, Dale smiles. "Edie has such a life urge," he says. "I have never found anyone with as strong a will to live — never."

"I am fighting to stay alive not because I fear death but because I love life," Edie says, her voice again dipping to a whisper. "I thank God every day for this life, and I want there to be more, though that's not known. What is known is that I'm alive today, this minute. And that's pretty much what we all have — this day, this moment."

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