I was there when they vowed “In sickness and in health… ’til death do us part.”
One lovely October day in 2012, as Brian and I were photographing a wedding reception, we noticed a super cute couple having an absolute blast on the dance-floor. By the way they were looking at each other, we could tell they were both head over heels for one another. She caught the bouquet. He caught the garter. He walked up to me to show me pictures of his girlfriend on his phone, because he couldn’t believe how beautiful she was. When he introduced her to us, we discovered she had attended the same university as Brian and I, that her last name was Powell as well, and that she was from Pennsylvania just like Brian. About a year later, we got a phone-call from John Craig, asking if Brian could photograph his proposal to Alexandra from inside of a shark tank at the Atlanta Aquarium, lol! The Aquarium wasn’t super thrilled about that idea, but we DID get to photograph their maternity photos when they found out they were expecting their son Johnny, and their wedding a year later! Over the last 4 years, we’ve traded having each other over for dinner too many times to count, and have stayed up way too late on just as many occasions talking around dining room tables. Their son Johnny prays for Avonlea to stay healthy, and Violet thinks Johnny is just the greatest. We don’t clean our houses when we know we’re getting together. We have been known to shop together for the ingredients we will use while cooking and eating together later that evening.
These are friends who truly do life with us, and naturally we were terrified when they called us 3 weeks ago to tell us that John had found a lump under his tongue, and that doctors were concerned. In the past 3 weeks, the mass has more than doubled in size, even with John water-fasting to try and slow the growth of the tumor. One CT scan, two biopsies, an exploratory surgery, two mis-diagnoses and a PET scan later, John and Alexandra finally have an answer.
John has cancer: an NUT Midline Carcinoma, to be exact.
I shed quite a few tears as I watched them receive the diagnosis LIVE on Facebook, on their page The Candid Craigs! The doctor explained to them, on the video, that the specifics of John’s case is one of only about 100 cases in recorded medical history. The statistics for survival are extremely low, and the average survival rate is about 9 months.
A week ago, we got them all dressed up, knowing that surgery, reconstructions and aggressive drugs were likely in their near future, and met up at Landsford Canal for a “My Forever Valentine” emergency mini session! Alexandra and I had been planning a surprise shoot for John for Valentines Day for several weeks before the tumor appeared. But when the word “cancer” began being spoken aloud, we put the pedal to the metal and bumped up their session date. It was emotional session, and the right side of John’s face and jaw were extremely enlarged from the tumor. We posed them purposefully, to hide the swelling in some shots, but highlight the area in others. A few tears may have been shed, but there is so much beauty in the vulnerability these two are so brave enough to share with the world through these images.
And that vulnerability does not stop here. PLEASE go Like and Follow their Facebook page, The Candid Craigs! Watch their story all the way from the beginning. You can also support them financially by donating to their crowd-funding HERE. John and Alexandra own their own business, and will need to take weeks or maybe even months away from work to focus on the aggressive treatment approach doctors are recommending. They have spent the last several weeks evaluating ALL potential treatment options: Cancer Centers of America, holistic facilities in Mexico such as CHIPSA and Oasis of Hope, and have decided that the cancer is just progressing too quickly to waste any more time. John has been admitted to CMC Main for the time being to begin chemo and to allow surgeons there to begin planning a major surgery to remove part of his jaw and rebuild it.
Please support our clients-turned-dear-friends, John and Alexandra (and their 3-year-old son Johnny), by following and sharing their journey on social media, and donating if you can! And lastly, enjoy a few of our favorite images of John and Alexandra.
I’m SO EXCITED to finally post these photos! Our sweet Avonlea was is desperate need of a “big girl bed” for the last several months. Being handicapped, she needed the safety of a crib, and so has been in her crib we picked out for her before she was born until a few weeks ago. But, being nearly four (ohmygosh we have an almost 4-year-old!) she was getting too tall/ long for the crib!
Some of her doctors and therapists recommended we get her a SleepSafe bed, or some kind of special bed, custom-made for her by a company that specializes in products for people with special/ medical needs. I just couldn’t stomach the idea (at least for right now), of waiting a year or more for her insurance to approve a $7-10k bed that wouldn’t be very pretty (I know… I’m vain. I get it). But I think that one of the hardest parts about parenting a child with special needs (especially early on), is laying down your own expectations and dreams for your child. You come to terms with the fact that your other children’s friends might not want to come over because you have a “weird” kid at home. You let visions of chasing butterflies, dance recitals and getting dressed for prom fall by the wayside. You stop imagining their name on a wedding invitation, or watching them walk down the aisle. You begin to realize that you will be caring for and living with your handicapped child as an adult. It’s hard to give all of that up.
There are only a few things I don’t have to sacrifice, or allow her to miss out on. And having a beautiful princess room with a gorgeous castle bed is one of those things! Avonlea’s medical needs are not severe enough, in our opinion, to warrant a $7-10k custom medical bed! We decided to find a bed that we loved, and pay a custom carpenter to adapt it for her to fit her needs right now, which at this point is really only that she needed some sort of rails to keep her from falling out!
I found this absolutely darling antique headboard and footboard for sale on the Facebook Marketplace! The seller was extremely gracious in allowing us to purchase the bed separate from the matching dresser (we needed her existing dresser as it’s long enough to still function as a changing table). And we hired custom carpenter Karl Bucher to take the headboard and footboard, and build new side-pieces that are tall enough to keep Avie from rolling out of the bed. He even built one with this functioning hinged door that swings down and allows us to get her in and out of the bed easily (and even get in the bed to snuggle with her)!
It’s still not completely done. As of today, we have all the materials to pad and upholster the inside of the new side-panels. Avonlea has just learned how to sit up on her own, but is still not very stable in the “sit” position and falls over a lot! So padding those new long side pieces will be the perfect final touch to make this bed everything we would have needed out of one of those expensive SleepSafe beds (at least for now)!
Our last major concern in putting her in a twin-sized bed was not being able to use her AngelCare monitor! This is a monitor with a sensor that lays underneath the crib mattress and senses the baby’s breathing through movement. If it doesn’t sense movement for more than 20 seconds, it beeps and alerts the parents to come in and check on the baby. It’s mainly marketed towards first-time parents who are terrified of SIDS (and rightly so). But with Avonlea’s genetic disorder, she was not only at a higher risk for SIDS as an infant but also breathing issues in general. We have always had the security of the AngelCare monitor since she was a few months old, and since her seizures are occasionally accompanied by trouble breathing, we wanted to still be able to use it. The problem was, the sensor only works with a crib-sized mattress (height and length). We special-ordered a twin mattress that is the same height as a standard crib-mattress, and Brian was able to wire two AngelCare sensors together and into the same monitor, so that we could have one sensor at each end of the mattress and they can talk to each other and ensure that no matter where she lays down in the bed, one of them is making sure she’s breathing! SO FAR, it’s worked perfectly. But, if anyone out there reads this and decides to try it at home, please note the DISCLAIMER at the bottom of this post.
From the first night we laid her in her new big girl bed, she has absolutely loved it! She has so much for room and she loved rolling around and pushing herself up into the sitting position and peaking over the sides! While in the spirit of getting a new bed, we also painted and re-arranged her furniture, so to us, it feels like a brand new room We’re so in love with her, this bed, and all the snuggles we’ve had and will have in it!
Enjoy a few of our favorite shots of Avonlea’s new room, and new bed!
DISCLAIMER: WE DO NOT RECOMMEND USING THE ANGEL-CARE MONITOR IN ANY WAY IT IS NOT DIRECTED BY THE MANUFACTURER! MODIFICATIONS MADE TO THIS PRODUCT ARE AT YOUR OWN RISK!
This year, Brian and I had the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving for the Powell family! This was something I had wanted to be able to do for a long time, but we’ve never really had the kitchen space to accommodate all the cooks. This year, the family decided to keep things minimal as Brian’s mother continues with chemotherapy, and as just about every household was in the midst of busy seasons of life. So it finally worked out that our home was the place to host Thanksgiving!
Even though we were keeping food dishes simple, I knew I wanted to set a lovely table for everyone. If you don’t know, table settings are a bit of a big deal in my family (the Reynolds family), and my mom even owns her own business renting out vintage china for events! My mother graciously let me borrow some mix-and-match white plates and napkins from her “bridal” collection. I used simple, cheap, gold chargers from Hobby Lobby instead of place-mats, and our existing silverware. And for the centerpiece, I just used an assortment of different-sized square and rectangular vases with floating candles along with these funky, mod gold teal-light holders from, of all places, Wal Mart!
And of course, I had to throw in a little eucalyptus garland for a pop of color, also from Hobby Lobby. I love the look of eucalyptus, but unfortunately, we cannot have real eucalyptus in the house as it can be a trigger for Avonlea’s seizures! Crazy, right?
Lastly, our house has a sweet, arched opening from the living room into the dining room, which we adorned with a lush greenery garland (from, you guessed it, Hobby Lobby). I loved looking in at the dining room table through that archway!
Of course a lot of things went awry, as they tend to do on major family holidays. The napkins never got pressed before they were folded, we forgot to get out the wine-glasses until after we were already loading our plates up with food, and I completely conked out and fell asleep about 17 minutes after dinner was over, because I’d stayed up so late the night before, cleaning! Lesson learned from my first time hosting Thanksgiving: clean earlier in the week to spare my energy to enjoy more time with family on the actual holiday 😉 Start placing your bets now as to whether or not I’ll actually do it!
Enjoy a few of our favorite photos of our Thanksgiving table!