Courtesy Sunday Burquest
Sunday Burquest, a contestant on Survivor: Millenials vs. Gen X, died on Sunday morning after a battle with esophageal and ovarian cancer, PEOPLE has confirmed. She was 50.
Burquest, who was a pastor when she competed on Survivor, announced last June that she had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer that spread to her lymph nodes and ovaries. At the time, doctors had given her months to live.
"Here's my thinking," she told PEOPLE at the time. "No one knows how much time you have left. Accidents can happen. Miracles can happen. Someone healthy can die unexpectedly, and someone sick can live for much longer than expected. So I don't think of this as a death sentence; I think of this as something that has happened, and is now a part of my life. And I'm going to live my life as fully as I can."
Burquest, who is survived by her husband, four children, and two daughters-in-law, battled breast cancer in 2012 and underwent multiple surgeries, as well as chemotherapy and radiation.
She was declared cancer-free in time to compete on Survivor in 2016. Using her social skills and her ability to work well with younger contestants, she lasted for 35 days and finished the season in seventh place.
Monty Brinton/CBS via Getty
Burquest remained active in the Survivor community, attending charity events and meeting fans. She remained popular with other contestants.
"Sunday Burquest was my number one on Survivor," fellow contestant Bret Labelle told PEOPLE after her diagnosis. "Our friendship and loyalty to each other helped us each get deep into the game. A friendship I cherish to this day. I am always amazed at Sunday's love and compassion for her friends, family, and anyone she meets."
Burquest, a committed Christian, wrote a book in 2018 about her journey. Grit Girl: Power to Survive Inspired by Grace describes how she found peace in her faith — and how the "grit" in her life transformed her into a stronger, more resilient person.
Eight years later, she found herself in a similar situation — and she told PEOPLE that she intended to rely on her faith once again to help her weather the difficult times. "Things happen to you," she said, "but you can handle it with strength and faith. And my faith gives me strength. I will fight this. The stage has been set for God to do great things, no matter what."
Courtesy Sunday Burquest Sunday Burquest dancing with her son at his wedding
Burquest counted her blessings, even after her diagnosis. "I keep my spirits up most days," she previously told PEOPLE, "not only because of the monumental amount of support, but also having my faith fully intact keeping me in a place of joy and peace.
As the news of her death spreads across the Survivor community, other contestants are sharing their grief -- and their love for Burquest.
"God has delivered Sunday from her suffering," Survivor: China contestant Leslie Nease tells PEOPLE. "It's not lost on me that her miracle came on a Sunday! Sometimes, God delivers us FROM a trial. Other times, He delivers us THROUGH a trial. And then, there are times when He delivers us BY a trial. No matter what, He is our deliverer!"
"Sunday is resting in His arms," Nease continues. "She is fully healed and whole and I know there is a big celebration in heaven right now as she entered, hearing God say to her, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.' Sunday got her miracle - and my heart is broken because I will miss her so much, but my heart is also hopeful as I know I will see her again one day."
Survivor: Millenials vs. Gen X winner Adam Klein had a special bond with Burquest. Klein's mother, Susie, died of cancer in 2016.
"The first time I ever had a conversation with Sunday, we were sitting against a lot by the side of our shelter in Fiji," he recalls. " I connected with her because of how strong the love for her children was. I was thinking about my own mom, and here she was with the same infinite love for her children."
He continues: "A couple nights ago, I sent her a message to check in and send love, and her daughter responded, telling me that 'she is going to say hi to your mom for you.' Sunday was always thinking of others. An angel now, and an angel always."