By Nick Worth
Anita Strawn de Ojeda has a way with wildlife. The Holbrook photographer, teacher and freelance writer has spent the last two years with her camera, capturing both landscape photos of the American West and close-up shots of wild animals and birds.
Ojeda uses a Canon 60D digital camera body, coupled with a Canon 100-400 lens.
She has had a photo published in Montana Outdoors Magazine and 250 of her bird photos are currently featured on the North American Bird Log iPhone app, by Bird’s Eye.
“I didn’t make any money from it,” Ojeda said with a laugh. “They paid me in apps.”
Ojeda said that was fine with her, as she is also a birder with a life list of 216 bird species seen since she began the hobby two years ago. She has recorded 207 individual species so far this year.
In addition to her photography, Ojeda has had articles on a variety of subjects published in the Journal of Ministry, Adventist Review and Insight, all magazines published for members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Ojeda said she first took a photography class when she attended college and then four years ago, attended a digital photography class. She has been shooting wildlife and scenic photographs for the past two years.
Ojeda and her husband Pedro moved to Holbrook last July. The two first met in a French class while in college in Walla Walla, Wash., and both are employed at the Seventh-day Adventist Indian School on McLaws Road in Holbrook. Pedro is the principal and Ojeda is a teacher.
“I’ll be teaching ninth through 12th grade English and 11th grade U.S. History,” She said, noting that there are from 60 to 75 students in the high school classes at the school.
Ojeda began her teaching career teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) at the Seventh-day Adventist Mission School in Calexico, Calif., in 1989. She followed that with a stint teaching ESL in the Reno, Nev., area followed by 11 years teaching English and Spanish at the Mount Ellis Academy near Bozeman, Mont.
That’s where her life and Pedro’s took a serious turn. Pedro was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in April 2002. By July, he was given a clean bill of health, but then suffered a relapse in late July that caused the lymphoma to spread to his spinal fluids.
Unable to find a cancer center near their home in Montana, Ojeda and her husband made the drive to the University of California at San Francisco, where Pedro was admitted for treatment. Ojeda had to go back to her teaching job and their two daughters, Laura and Sarah, in Montana, but several times over the next few months was called to Pedro’s bedside because the doctors feared for his life.
He was finally declared healthy enough to be an outpatient and underwent stem cell transplant procedures in January 2003.
Today he is still healthy and his doctors refer to him as a “miracle man.” Ojeda said the life expectancy for someone with Pedro’s condition averages 18 months.
Out of that experience, though, Ojeda came to realize the stress she went through as a caregiver had taken a toll on her as well.
“I was living with constant stress for a year,” Ojeda said. “I was traveling between Montana and California.”
She said that while the cancer center at UCSF was excellent for cancer treatment, very little was done at that time for the families and caregivers of those patients.
“They offer help to the patients,” Ojeda said. “It would be nice if somebody would check on the caregivers.”
One example she encountered occurred when she was checking Pedro into the center to begin his treatments and asked if they had a place where family members could stay at a lower cost.
“They handed me a list of hotels and B&Bs in San Francisco,” Ojeda said. “There’s no Ronald McDonald house for adults.”
She has many more similar stories of stressful days and nights during Pedro’s journey to health. All of the incidents added up to something she was not expecting.
Following Pedro’s recovery, Ojeda found she was suffering from a mild depression coupled with severe stress. During Pedro’s illness his weight had dwindled from around 180 pounds to as low as 130, while Ojeda found she had gained weight.
“Pedro and I had exchanged weights,” Ojeda said.
She then began a self-directed program of exercise and a healthier diet, which helped her beat the depression and shed the weight she had gained.
During a writer’s class, she also met Carol Bovee, of Kansas, who was a high school classmate of Pedro’s. Bovee’s son had contracted Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at the age of 4.
According to the website www.blessedbutstressed.com, “While attending a conference on ‘Educating the Child with Cancer,’ Carol tiredly looked over a list of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in cancer patients; then blinked awake when she noted that she had 90 percent of the symptoms.”
The website is a joint effort of Ojeda and Bovee to share their experiences and to make readers aware of the book they are co-authoring.
“We’re working on a manuscript,” Ojeda said. “It’s sort of a Chicken Soup or Cancer Caregiving for Dummies type of book.”
She explained that the purpose of the book is to let other caregivers know what to expect.
“Nobody told us about the stress and what it could do,” Ojeda said of Bovee’s and her own experiences. “Hopefully, caregivers will realize they’re not alone.”
She said there are now support groups for caregivers of cancer patients, elderly parents and children with special needs.
Asked if she had gotten any professional help or support with her depression and stress, Ojeda mentioned her exercise and dietary changes, then put her hand on her camera.
“This is my counselor…my therapist,” she said. “I started going out and taking photos out in nature.”
The work provided a catharsis for Ojeda and has resulted in a gallery of photos that features outstanding close-up views of several different varieties of birds, from the Gambel’s quail in Ojeda’s Holbrook yard to a series of shots of a Herring Gull on a beach eating a starfish.
Ojeda said she has plans to put up her own photography website, “but I haven’t quite got there yet.”
Although she has diverse interests and other projects in the offing, Ojeda said she will continue shooting pictures out in nature and adding to her photo gallery.
For a look at several of Ojeda’s wildlife and scenic landscape photos, go online to http://www.flickr.com/photos/64643610@N08/page1/.
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By Nick Worth