Photographer Documents Wife’s Battle With Breast Cancer In Heartbreaking Photo Series

Angelo Merendino knew it the first time he saw Jennifer, the woman who would one day become his wife.

He knew it the way his father before him knew it when he met Angelo’s mother five decades prior. Angelo was applying for a job as a bartender in Ohio, on August 29, 2005, and there Jennifer was.

“I found her.”

After she moved from their shared home town of Cleveland for a job in Manhattan, Angelo visited Jennifer with the hopes that his crush might be requited. It was, and the two began their lifelong union, at first dating long distance. Jennifer and Angelo would talk for hours when they couldn’t be together, and no span of miles could dim their passion; so long as they had each other, they were always home.

“I was so crazy about Jen.”

After half a year of his-and-her cities, Angelo could stand the distance no longer. He packed his things and moved to New York, with the few items he hadn’t sold to get there.

Of course, he allowed for one luxury item; when Jennifer took him out to her favorite Italian restaurant, he got down on one knee and presented an engagement ring. She said yes and a year later, Angelo and Jennifer got married in Central Park.

“I married the girl of my dreams. Life was perfect.”

Five months after their first dance as Mr. and Mrs. Merendino, to the sound of “I’m in The Mood for Love” on his father’s accordion, Angelo heard something else he’ll never forget: Jennifer’s voice on the phone, telling him she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I was numb immediately. I’m still numb.”

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As it does for so many on a daily basis in the face of cancer, life grew ever more complicated. And yet, it offered a paradoxical refinement or sorts for Angelo and Jennifer; the petty annoyances of life went from trivial to immaterial and the two were able to hone in on the two things that were most important: loving and surviving.

“Making each other smile, picking each other up when we fell, letting the people in our life know how much we loved them…these things mattered.”

In the challenges that followed, they saw their greatest fear made real: Jennifer’s cancer had metastasized, spreading to her liver and bone.

As months passed in a blur of doctor appointments, treatments, and procedures, the Merendinos felt their support network wane; those not involved in the daily grind were removed from the situation and couldn’t appreciate the struggle they faced, as if it wasn’t real for them.

“We didn’t expect anyone to have the answers; we just needed our family and friends to be there.”

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With mere words failing to impact those around him, Angelo turned to a familiar medium—photography—to better convey the battle he and Jennifer were forced to fight. In the hope that a glimpse inside their daily lives would help their loved ones comprehend the struggles the couple endured, he threw a multimedia Hail Mary, a stark and vivid visual cry for help. At the suggestion of a friend and with Jennifer’s permission, Angelo shared their story online.

“There were no thoughts of making a book or having exhibitions, these photographs were born and made out of necessity.”

Moved by the power of the photos, both immediate and undeniable, people from around the world began to reach out to Jennifer and Angelo. Some emails came from other women similarly afflicted; they were inspired by her courage. The pictures had another impact as well.

“The most important thing that happened was that our family and friends rallied together to be by our side.”

Just weeks after turning 40, following four years of fighting cancer and less than five years of marriage, Jennifer Merendino succumbed to her illness on December 22, 2011. In memory of his wife, Angelo founded The Love You Share, a non-profit to provide financial support to women in need while undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Half of the proceeds from his book, The Battle We Didn’t Choose: My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer, go to benefit the organization he started to honor Jennifer, his great love.

“Our star didn’t shine long, but man did it shine bright.”

“Love every morsel of the people in your life.” – Jennifer Merendino

Editor’s note: we ask that any and all comments show the proper decorum and reverence the Merendinos deserve; out of respect for their suffering, commenters should refrain from using this forum as a soapbox, regardless of their passion or points of view.

[All quotes and photos credited to Angelo and Jennifer Merendino; pulled from Angelo Merendino Photography, The Battle We Didn’t Choose: my wife’s fight with breast cancer and mylifewithbreastcancer]

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