Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Parkview senior Bridget Sandy poses for a portrait at the Stone Mountain Golf Club. Sandy who contributed to the Parkview's 11th place finish in the state golf tournament will be walking onto the women's golf team at North Georgia College and State University next fall. At the age of 3, Sandy was diagnosed with leukemia, she went through over 2 years of chemotherapy and is now cancer free as a 13 year survivor.
As she approaches the golf ball, Bridget Sandy stops, takes a step back and looks around. She marvels over the pristine beauty of the golf course. The finely cut grass, the big trees, and a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds in the background.
As she pauses, Sandy takes a moment to reflect and remembers the battle she had with leukemia as a young child.
"It's crazy to still be here," Sandy said. "Especially to be on the golf course and enjoying myself and to have an escape is a good thing."
The recent Parkview graduate, a 13-year leukemia survivor, also has turned into a pretty good golfer. After growing up playing basketball, Sandy turned to the links only 18 months ago. She was one of the county's top golfers this season, finishing fifth at the Region 8-AAAAA tournament and helping Parkview to the region title.
"I didn't think I would pick up the game this quickly," Sandy said. "My dad always believed in me and said if I want to get something done I have the determination to do it. It's pretty evident with the 18 months of golf."
Sandy's father, Tony Sr., saw that drive in his daughter at an early age when she fought off leukemia.
When Sandy was a child, her parents Tony and Sue took a family trip with her older brother Tony Jr., and younger sister, Emily to Amicalola Falls in North Georgia. The playful 3-year-old wasn't herself and she came down with a fever of 103 degrees that she couldn't break for 10 days. She went to the doctor and had blood work done that revealed she had Leukemia. To make sure, she went through six bone marrow biopsies and a majority of the tests were positive.
"I remember the bad parts like spinal taps, bone marrow biopsies and that kind of thing," Sandy said.
There are four different types of leukemia and Sandy had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL. leukemia is a type of cancer that causes the body to make too many white blood cells and prevents the fight of infection. That meant she could have little contact with other children in fear of getting sick. There were some nights her fever would get to 105 and the doctors didn't know if she would survive during the night.
"It was a long battle and my family really helped me through it," Sandy said.
For the next two and a half years, Sandy was in and out of the hospital with chemotherapy. Her cute curly brown hair was gone from the chemo and she wore wigs and baseball hats. But that wasn't the worst part.
"The spinal taps I'll never forget," she said.
By the time Sandy reached kindergarten, the leukemia was gone. Her family celebrated by having a party when she got her port out.
"That was a big deal," she said with a big smile.
It's a story her golf coach Devon Walker knew about, but not in such great detail.
"I'm just in tears," the first-year Parkview coach said. "I knew about the leukemia before, but listening and hearing her story. What got me is listening to what she comes from and where she is today, really just touched my heart."
With the leukemia gone, Sandy began to have an active childhood. She started playing basketball when she was 8 with the Gwinnett Basketball League. She joined an AAU team and began to play year round. Sandy made the Parkview varsity team as a sophomore, but when she tried out as a junior she didn't have as much fun. She gave up basketball and that's when her father, who was also the Tip-Off Club president at the time, suggested she try golf.
"It's a different sport, but a sport you can play your whole life," Sandy said.
She went to the driving range with her father and she fell in love with the new game. Sandy took lessons from D.J. Francoeur over the summer and made the varsity team that spring.
In her first season, her goal was to break 100 on the course and she hit the mark at the region tournament.
"I never thought I would shoot 100 for my first year," she said.
Sandy spent last summer playing with the Atlanta Junior Golf Association and she greatly improved her game. She shot a career-best 84 at The Chimneys in Winder. Sandy shot a 90 to place fifth at the Region 8-AAAAA tournament and helped Parkview win the region title and qualify for the state meet.
She shot a 90 again to help the Panthers to an 11th-place finish at state.
"This year when she came back, she still had that same passion," Walker said. "As you can tell, she has a natural knack for the game and she works hard."
Sandy, who maintains with a 3.7 GPA, improved so quickly as a golfer that she attracted the attention of college coaches. She signed a golf scholarship this spring with North Georgia, where she plans to major in nursing.
"The cancer has really influenced me and now I want to be a nurse," Sandy said.
The leukemia is completely gone from Sandy, but because of the chemo there could be some later effects such as a heart condition or infertility. She has an EKG test on her heart every year and has shown no signs of not being able to have kids one day.
"When you hear something like that, it always breaks your heart that someone has come from that," Walker said. "She's been a positive person and has not dwelled on those things. She's one of those people that had it, beat it and lived to tell about it."
Now Sandy wants to help other people with leukemia. She just completed her 13th year of walking Gwinnett's Relay For Life, which she has done every year since kindergarten. She'll spend her third summer volunteering at Northside Hospital before taking her golf talents to college.
"You can relate golf to your life in a lot of ways." Sandy said. "Some days I take life for granted. Out on the golf course, it's a pretty scenery and you have to take everything in. It's also with life. There could be a chance I could not be here right now. Just to be on the golf course and to open your eyes to everything that's out there, it's pretty amazing."