Breast cancer is terrifying. We can pour out statistics on how many people are diagnosed each year, on mortality rates, on who’s getting more of it and who’s most at risk…all of it is important information, but no number can give us an idea of the actual experience. In a heartbreakingly honest documentation of his late wife Jennifer‘s fight with breast cancer, photography Angelo Merendino shows the face — the devastating, painful, slow face — of what the disease is like.of this disease.
After a beautiful romance, Angelo and Jennifer were married in Central Park. Five months later, Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer. Angelo recalls:
I remember the exact moment…Jen’s voice and the numb feeling that enveloped me. That feeling has never left. I’ll also never forget how we looked into each other’s eyes and held each other’s hands. “We are together, we’ll be ok.”
With each challenge we grew closer. Words became less important. One night Jen had just been admitted to the hospital, her pain was out of control. She grabbed my arm, her eyes watering, “You have to look in my eyes, that’s the only way I can handle this pain.” We loved each other with every bit of our souls.
Being a photographer, Angelo started to take photos of Jen’s experience with the disease, as well as those of the people around her. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking series of photos — really, this is the third time I have begun to cry just by looking at them — but I strongly recommend taking a glance at them if you have a moment. From initial hospital visits to doing her makeup, shaving her head and going to the beach, the photos are striking in their humanization of the illness, as well as giving the viewer an idea on how painful it must have been to go through such an experience together — a story that Angelo wants to share.
Most people do not want to hear these realities and at certain points we felt our support fading away. Other cancer survivors share this loss. People assume that treatment makes you better, that things become OK, that life goes back to “normal.” However, there is no normal in cancer-land. Cancer survivors have to define a new sense of normal, often daily. And how can others understand what we had to live with everyday?
My photographs show this daily life. They humanize the face of cancer, on the face of my wife. They show the challenge, difficulty, fear, sadness and loneliness that we faced, that Jennifer faced, as she battled this disease. Most important of all, they show our Love. These photographs do not define us, but they are us.
So, yeah, I wish I had more to say on the subject but honestly, the series says so incredibly much. Please go look at it right now, if you have a moment. It is one of the most deeply saddening but insightful things you’ll see.
Photo: Angelo Merendino