Entries and Categories

A Happy New Year for Leslie and Family

This is a story that I probably should have written about over Thanksgiving, because our family had more than our share of blessings to be thankful for last November. That is when we learned that Leslie Blauch Hedge, shown here with her 3-month-old baby Merceda, was in full remission from the leukemia that threatened both their lives. Being able to photograph Leslie and Merceda just before Christmas was one of those occasions that made me extremely grateful to be a photographer, and to see both of them looking so lovely and full of life made the season truly miraculous. Now I’m glad that I waited to tell their story so that you can see for yourself what a miracle looks like.

Leslie came into our lives when she and our daughter, Julie, became joined at the hip in seventh grade. During a rough patch that year, Leslie came to stay with us for a time, and she was with us so much after that we began referring to her as our “extra kid.” There was never a dull moment with Leslie around; she and Julie were an interesting counterpoint: Julie, more quiet and steady, and Leslie, always full of drama.

It was drama, in fact, that led Leslie to the theater department of West Virginia University, where Julie also enrolled, but in the interior design curriculum. Both girls met their future husbands at WVU, and finally, after graduation, they went their separate ways: Julie and her husband, Christopher Frum, live in Morgantown with their seven-year-old son Lucas, and Leslie and her husband, David Hedge, live in Sunland, California. Julie is a commercial interior designer and Chris is a medical researcher. David and Leslie worked for a time in the Denver film community, then moved to California to take advantage of opportunities in Hollywood. David is an art director on films and commercials, and Leslie has done acting and producing. After having their first child, Daxton, now four, Leslie decided to get a real estate license, and when she became pregnant with a baby girl, everything in her life seemed just about perfect.

Early in the pregnancy Leslie was feeling unusually tired, but that was understandable, as she was raising a busy three-year-old boy. Next, a cold turned into bronchitis that she couldn’t shake. Then she began experiencing nosebleeds that wouldn’t stop. After seeing three doctors in two days, an alert ENT doctor ordered a blood test. That night he called to tell Leslie to get to the ER immediately, and by the time she was admitted to the hospital, she was close to dying. In her 24th week of pregnancy she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia called Hairy Cell Leukemia, making her the 6th pregnant woman on record to get the disease, which fortunately has an excellent cure rate. The immediate problem, however was to get her through the pregnancy without complications so that she could take a course of chemotherapy. In the meantime, she endured numerous transfusions to stabilize her blood count, and she had to avoid anything and anyone that could pass on germs, since her immune system was not functioning.

In May, her doctor decided that she needed to have her spleen removed, and she became the first pregnant woman to undergo a laparoscopic splenectomy at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Just about a month before her due date, Leslie was feeling weaker, so the doctors decided to induce labor, hoping to avoid having to do a cesarean section, as they wanted her to be able to start chemo as soon as possible. The delivery went perfectly, then something went terribly wrong: Leslie’s stomach migrated through a tear in the diaphragm into her chest cavity, and once again she was saved by an alert physician who rushed her into surgery. After a painful recovery, Leslie was finally able to have her chemo treatments. Then came further complications with a bowel obstruction and debilitating bone pain when her body began producing new, healthy bone marrow. But gradually her strength began to return, and in late October, her doctor pronounced that she was in remission, with only a 5% chance of recurrence. In mid-December she was strong enough to fly with Merceda to Pennsylvania so that her whole family could meet the sweet baby girl who managed to survive all the drama leading up to her birth without a hitch. And she is really a lovely, easy-going baby. Her name, Merceda Austine, means “great reward.” She is that and more!

With all the anxiety surrounding the economy and world affairs, I thought you might enjoy reading Leslie’s story. As a result of this ordeal, she has gained wisdom and insight that comes only to those who face such tribulations. Much of that wisdom is contained in a journal she kept through the CaringBridge, a wonderful organization that provides free, personalized websites that support and connect loved ones during critical illness, treatment and recovery. If you know anyone who can benefit from the service, you can let them see how it works by visiting Leslie’s
CaringBridge site at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/lesliesjourney. In the journal, Leslie talks passionately about the need for the public to donate blood, a cause she has wholeheartedly embraced and for which she intends to be an advocate. She also mentions what a hero Dave has been through it all, and how grateful she is for the support of friends, family, and even strangers. My favorite entry is from November 20, 2008, just a week before Thanksgiving:

All that we've gone through this summer has been the gift of a lifetime to me. People see me at the store with my children and tell me how quickly it goes by and that I need to enjoy every moment with them before it slips away, and I make sure they know that I am. My goal is to always hold this attitude toward my life- even as the events of the summer fade to become a distant memory I vow to remember all that I have learned. Every day that I have to be alive and have experiences, whether good or bad, I am ALIVE! The bad times will always pass- nothing lasts forever- but there are always people there who love you, and always people there to be loved, so life is always worth living. Just take a moment and see that you are breathing, move your body around and look at the beauty of nature or look into someone's eyes and know that this too is so temporary. And it's such a beautiful gift to be enjoyed! This summer taught me that I don't know how much time I have here on Earth in this life, but I do know that it isn't the length of my stay, it's the quality of my journey that is important. So I'm trying to live each day with as much love and appreciation in my heart as I can create.

What a wonderful lesson for all of us as we enter a new year!


New April Guerrilla Management Workshop Posted

Last week I posted a second 2009 Guerrilla Management Workshop for April 24-27 at my lake house and studio in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. If you are interested, then you'd better register NOW. We already have 11 studio slots filled, and the limit is 15 studios. For complete information, click here.

Not a Great Start for the New Year :-(

You know how they tell you not to drive or use equipment after you’ve taken certain medications? Well I never thought the equipment warning extended to an electric mixer. As I learned on New Year’s Day it most certainly does.

After a year in which I’ve spent a lot of time uncomfortably seated on cramped commuter airplanes, and having recently finished a five-week stint at the computer where I was writing a book that Marathon will publish this month, my back was pretty miserable. I’d been putting off seeing the doc until the book was finished, so I was delighted to get the last appointment on New Year’s Eve afternoon. The doc said I need some physical therapy. Not a problem. I’ll get that started after Imaging USA. Then he gave me prescriptions for a painkiller and a muscle relaxant. I took them as directed on New Year’s Day, and relax me they did . . . so much so that I wound up with my right hand stuck in the mixer beaters, along with the mashed potatoes. By the time Jim got the plug pulled and my hand extracted, it was pretty nasty, so we ended up in the ER on New Year’s Day, which if my mother were still living, she would gleefully point out that whatever happens on New Year’s Day is an omen for the rest of the year. I didn’t believe her then, and fortunately I don’t believe her now. In fact, I was pretty darn lucky: because the mixer was very powerful, it pulled my entire hand in, not just my fingers, so it did most of its damage on the top of my hand and my index finger. I have a splint on my hand, and it’s still pretty swollen, but it’s going to be fine. I’m also very lucky that I had installed voice recognition software on my Mac before I started on the book. I certainly couldn’t be writing this without it. For Mac folks, it’s MacSpeech Dictate, and it works beautifully. Startup takes about 10 minutes.

The rest of the good news is that I’ve been banned from the kitchen in the interest of my health and the sanity of my family, several of whom witnessed the debaucle. After years of skiing, riding motorcycles, riding horses, being thrown from horses, going over jumps on horses (in some cases without the horse), I’ve landed in the ER only twice: once when I ruptured a tendon in my little finger while making a bed, and this time due to an altercation with a kitchen appliance. So no more cooking for me, and I think I’ll stick to a glass of wine to provide any necessary relaxation.

So watch out for those dangerous kitchen appliances, and Cheers to you all!