When Sandra "Sandy" Eisenach was working at the Embassy of the Marshall Islands after graduating from the University of Maryland, she befriended a homeless woman who would sit near the Embassy’s steps. Every morning, she would bring the woman coffee and donuts, and whenever the Embassy had leftover food from a party, Eisenach would box up some leftovers for her.
"She loved people, and she would go out of her way," said her father, Robert C. Eisenach.
Sandy Eisenach of Oakton — daughter, sister and parent — died Feb. 19 from melanoma. She was 42.
Although she struggled with cancer for five years, friends and family say they’ll remember Sandy as a courageous woman and mother who cared for people even up until her death.
"She loved music, she loved dancing, she was very bright and capable," said Sandy Eisenach’s mother, Wanda.
Sandy Eisenach grew up with an older brother and a younger sister in Oakwood, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton. After high school, she attended Florida State University for two years, then transferred to the University of Maryland at College Park. She graduated with a degree in interior design and worked in that field briefly before returning to college in Florida to become a medical technician. She stayed in Florida for two years, moved to Lansing, Mich., and worked there for several years before moving to Northern Virginia seven or eight years ago. She moved to Virginia because her brother lived in the area and her father had a work assignment in Bethesda.
ON MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND five years ago, Eisenach discovered she had melanoma. The family had descended to Captiva, Fla., to attend the beach wedding of Sandy Eisenach’s brother. At 5:15 p.m., before the rehearsal dinner, her doctor called to tell her that they had found malignant cells and that she would live for a year.
But Eisenach lived longer than the doctor had expected. She underwent treatments at Johns Hopkins University and Fairfax Inova Hospital. The cancer went into remission briefly but resurfaced in her brain and spinal column. She started losing her hearing 14 months ago and relied on hearing aids until she died.
"She kept surviving longer than they said she would," said her mother.
Yet even though Sandy Eisenach had cancer, she continued living. After learning about her diagnosis, she worked for two years as a compliance assistant at the National Association of Securities Dealers. After work, she would go to Fairfax Hospital for treatments.
In June of last year, she and her son, now 16, went on a cruise. And she continued to volunteer at her son’s school, Oakton High. She served as secretary of Oakton’s PTSA, volunteered to give physicals at the school, and helped serve lunch. Her parents, who would fly in from Ohio and stay with her for weeks until she seemed better, would pull her up the steps at the end of the day.
"SHE HAD A LOT OF WILL and a lot of strength," said her mother.
Others besides her family also took turns caring for her. Friends from Emmanuel Lutheran Church, workers from the Hospice of Northern Virginia, and Eisenach’s cat, Sneaker, performed checkups to see how she was doing.
Her friend Jane Holtje of Oakton would drive her around and take her out for lunch. Holtje met Eisenach when their children were fourth-graders at Oakton Elementary. They both volunteered with Oakton High School’s PTSA. When she showed up at her last meeting in October or November, Holtje knew Eisenach thought it would be her last.
"I really admired how she was handling the whole thing," Holtje said.
Holtje recalled how Eisenach would talk openly about her death, including preparations on how her son should be cared for. They also talked about religion as they would drive up to Hopkins or around town.
"She was very much in control of her situation and didn’t seem afraid," Holtje said.
Although her death has been difficult, friends find comfort in their snapshots of Eisenach: 50 to 60 neighborhood children lined up outside her door on Halloween, her red car and her red clothes, her sponsorship of a child in Honduras.
Eisenach is survived by her parents, Robert C. and Wanda Lee Eisenach; son, Javier Antonelli Briceno; brother Jeffrey A. and sister-in-law Jane Fortson Eisenach of Oakton; and sister Leigh Ann Eisenach of Columbus, Ohio.
"If I ever have to go through what Sandy did, I would look to her as my inspiration," Holtje said.
"We have been so inspired by her courage and grace," said her mother.