Sandra Walsh has had breast cancer twice. The first time was in 2005. The news left her breathless with disbelief. She was an active mom with a husband and three daughters, 11, 8 and 5. She worked as a mortgage agent and ran five miles a day.
In retrospect, Walsh, who lives in Gwinnett, Ga., can say, “There is hope as long as there is life. All of us have journeys. We don’t get to choose the journey we are given.”
But she had to claw her way to that truth, first suffering with weakness and pity. She found herself on the sofa unable to muster up the energy to move until one day, one of her daughters looked at her and said, “When am I getting my mom back?
“In that moment, it became clear to me that I could not allow anything to break the sacred bond that I had as a mother with my daughters,” said Walsh.
She suffered through her treatment and surgeries and was getting used to her new normal when in 2010 she was diagnosed with cancer again. This time she had a mastectomy. She went to buy the special bra she now needed to wear and discovered it was a heavy, uncomfortable, ugly thing that made her feel worse. So Walsh decided to create her own beautiful bra.
Now flash forward to today. Walsh, her cancer in remission, is negotiating with a major bra manufacturer to make and sell her Sacred Bond bras to the public.
Her circuitous route to bra designer began when she experienced chest pains while running. Two doctors and a radiologist dismissed the pains as related to exercise. But Walsh insisted on a chest X-ray, a mammogram and a PET scan.
Even though the radiologist finally said, “Based on the shapes it could be pre- cancerous…,” she wanted Walsh to go home and wait until her next regular examination. Walsh refused and asked for more tests. That week she was stunned to get a message from her doctor on her answering machine. He said, “By the way, I got your results and you have cancer.”
Recalling her doctor’s callousness and indifference still brings Walsh to tears. Although he operated on her six times, he never took the time to even visit her prior to the surgeries.
The radiation and chemotherapy treatments left her in physical and emotional pain. One night she knelt beside the bed crying for two hours, unable to pray. But she felt herself growing stronger. “I reached the place where I could say to the Lord: Be it unto me according to your will. If I live or if I die it is in your hands. I will serve you no matter what.”
She went to bed and slept peacefully for the first time in months. About two weeks later, she was awakened by a voice that said, “With long life I will satisfy you.” Her husband told her the words were from Psalm 91.
Slowly—piece by piece—Walsh put her life back together, working on her body and her spirit.
Five years later, in 2010, she felt a lump in her left breast. This time she went to a different doctor. He examined her, suspected it was cancer and ordered a biopsy immediately.
“When he delivered the news of cancer he looked me directly in the eye,” she recalled. “He ordered a body PET scan to see if the cancer was in any other part of my body.”
The test showed the cancer was localized to her left breast but an assistant let it slip that it was an aggressive strain that affects African American women exclusively, “was incurable and was always fatal.” Walsh was devastated. Then a friend reminded her of the voice that had spoken words from Psalm 91. And she also found out the assistant was wrong; she did not have the aggressive strain of cancer.
This time around Walsh amazed medical professionals with her positive attitude and with how well she responded to treatments and painful side effects. Still, she had no energy. She got up at 4 a.m. just so she could be ready by 6 a.m. when her oldest daughter left for high school.
“I wanted to make sure I was walking my kids out the door,” she said. “My daughter would help me down the stairs and I would watch her get on the bus. Then I lied on the couch and called the nine-year-old who had to get up at 6:45. Most times I couldn’t get her breakfast but I walked her to the door. I sat for the other one until it was time for her to leave and then I would try to get up stairs.”
She noticed that her 16-year-old’s bra strap was always showing. Meanwhile, Walsh kept her own body covered because radiation burns the skin of Black women, turning it dark like tar, she said. She started experimenting with her daughter’s bras, decorating the straps. She even convinced her daughter to wear the bra to school and when she came home she told her mother, “If there were a thousand girls, a thousand asked me where did I get my bra.”
Walsh got her daughters to help her decorate bra straps with beads, pearls, chains, lace and rhinestones. She came up with her first prototype for women like herself.
“I feel that God breathed a thought into my mind,” said Walsh. “I was looking for something to do with my daughters.”
Today, Walsh lovingly deals with the challenges of a body still healing. Her medication tires her, so she has developed a routine that includes morning coffee, fresh juices, vitamins and exercises. Her doctor told her to nap, but she walks three miles every morning and goes to Zumba class and says her body is getting stronger.
Her oldest daughter is getting ready for college. She wants to become an anesthesiologist, a choice she made after being with her mom as she was about to enter surgery.
Walsh said her daughter told her, “‘I want to be that last person to offer hope to people in those situations.’”
Walsh is excited about her Sacred Bond line of bras.
“The mission of Sacred Bond is to encourage, empower and embolden women who are in the midst of their journey in fighting breast cancer,” she said. “We are committed to helping them re-establish the connection that cancer breaks with their sense of beauty and self esteem.”
She wants to see her bras sold in all lingerie departments and stores.
“I found it repulsive to go back to the hospital to find an appropriate bra because the hospital represented a place of such pain and loss,” she said.
She calls her time between her second diagnosis and today, a “year in the dark” and added, “ I think God directly placed me here. Cancer is not a death sentence. It feels that way, but no one can say it’s over until God gives the final call.”