Angelo Merendino Documents His Wife’s Tragic Battle with Cancer

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

“There is no normal in cancer-land,” writes New York-based Angelo Merendino on the website for his photo documentary, “The Battle We Didn’t Choose.” Just five months into married life with “the girl of [his] dreams,” she was diagnosed with cancer. This began a challenging four-year journey of remission and relapse, an emotional roller coaster which completely changed their lives. In an effort to cope with the reality of the disease and show others what it’s like to struggle day to day, Merendino chronicled his wife’s battle with cancer and the effect she had on others.

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

What made you decide to document your wife’s struggle with the breast cancer?
‘Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2008, just five months after our wedding. Jen and I lived in Manhattan and most of our family and friends lived in or near our hometown of Akron, OH. During our first round of treatments, family and friends were very involved but once treatment ended in October of 2008 we noticed that many of these people were losing contact – as if the cancer was gone and life went back to “normal.”

‘In April of 2010 our doctors found that Jen’s cancer had metastasized to her liver and bone. At this point Jen’s cancer was chronic and we were told that “until there is a cure, Jen will always have to take some type of chemotherapy.” As we started with the new treatments we didn’t feel that our family and friends (most of them) understood how serious our life had once again become. Our day to day was full of stress, medications, doctors visits, pain…we needed our family and friends now more than ever. Emails and phone calls weren’t enough to get the point across and this is when I decided that they needed to “see” what we were going through.’

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

How did the camera make a difference in your lives and getting through the everyday? How did your wife Jennifer feel about the camera?
‘For me, it was strangely an escape from reality. I could bury myself in photos even though the content was the very same thing I was running from. It is the same to this day. Jen was always open about her fight with cancer and wanted to share what she learned with anyone who wanted to listen. She knew that these photos could help and the camera never phased her.

‘Once these photos started to be viewed, people picked up the pace and thankfully many of the people who were losing touch came back into our life. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if this change hadn’t occurred. Now that I look back, it was brutal. While everything was going on I knew I had to just keep going – I couldn’t think too much about the reality because it was just too, I don’t know, too real.’

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

angelo merendino

In addition to photographing Jennifer at home and at the hospital you also photographed ‘reactions’ of New Yorkers when she was walking down the streets. Can you talk a bit about why you thought to include strangers’ responses in this story?
‘The stares became another part of our life that we had to accept. I guess I just wanted people to see what Jen was going through, what she had to face every day and that despite all of that she was still graceful, kind and loving. Cancer is not just about chemotherapy, pink ribbons and fundraising. Someone with cancer is not an outcast, he or she is still human. We didn’t get mad when people stared, we just wanted them to know that Jen was still a human being with feelings, needs and desires.’

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

Has photography taken on a different meaning for you after working on this documentary?
‘I don’t waste shots anymore…not sure if this is good or bad just yet but I feel that now I decide not to shoot something instead of just pulling the shutter. Photography can be a powerful tool and I want to use my camera to share what I believe is important.’

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

What are your hopes and plans for this project?
‘Once I finish editing the images, I will start looking for a book publisher. I have two exhibitions currently scheduled, the first will be part of The New York Photo Festival in May and the second will be held at The Gathering Place in Cleveland, OH this July. Also, I am starting a non-profit in Jennifer’s name that will assist people with cancer and their day to day needs.

‘A few days before Jen passed I told her that the world would know about her. Aside from taking care of Jennifer, her legacy is the most important thing that I’ve ever been responsible for.’

cancer fight Angelo-Merendino photography

  • Nicole Osborne

    Stunning and compelling. I only wish more photographers would exhibit works to expose the important things in life instead of just putting out pretty images. Thank you for taking on this heart wrenching journey.

  • To me, this post explores a powerful side of photography that doesn’t get near the attention or glamor of, say, landscape or portrait photography.

    Cameras have this unique ability to capture, document and communicate deeply touching stories in a way that makes the observer feel what the subject must be going through.

    For example, in the photo where Jennifer was hailing a taxi, there was a passerby who had “one of those looks” I think we all would dread to get.

    It’s that kind of image that hits us emotionally and we instantly know what it must be like to be Jennifer at that moment.

    And you know the photographer was totally aware of that emotional impact when he said, “The stares became another part of our life that we had to accept. I guess I just wanted people to see what Jen was going through, what she had to face every day.”

    In a world where video seems to be king when documenting a story like this, photography I think has the edge.

    You see, a passerby who stares would only last a brief moment on a video but a photo lets you linger on that moment forever.

    And when you can capture pivotal moments, you don’t need a lot of pictures to powerfully communicate whatever story you want to tell.

  • My heart goes out to Angelo. Such a difficult subject to handle emotionally. My wife was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months ago, two operations (no chemo) and she’s cancer-free, for now. We count her as one of the lucky ones.

  • Greg Reynolds

    Strong and moving subject, but the images were equally as powerful.

    My sympathy for your great loss.

  • I was hoping this story would have a happy ending. Having had cancer at 28 I understand where he is coming from. I had friends disappear too- they didn’t know what to say to me. It was hard to see people go on with their normal lives while I was stuck spending hours in waiting rooms with my small baby and old ‘sick’ people. These images are so raw and for me they revoke memories. I had brain surgery and radiation treatment. I can almost smell the sterile smell in the hospital photos. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anji

    Raw, emotional and real.
    During my battle with this ugly disease, I often visit the website and read and re-read and sometimes just find myself staring into Jen’s eyes. That’s often where I find comfort and courage to continue my fight.

  • Niki

    As someone who lost their husband to cancer – these pictures were beautiful and moving. I am sorry for the loss of your beautiful wife – and hope these pictures will touch many, many lives.

  • Jolene McHugh

    These photos are an inspiration to me as I have been documenting my journey with metastatic breast cancer in a series of self portraiture, also taken with 100 iso black & white photography. Angelo captures all the emotion, and yes, the beauty too, that this disease invokes. Living with chronic cancer (a politically correct phase for terminal cancer) changes one’s view on how to live life to the fullest and his photos show the love, faith and determination wonderfully. Thank you…

  • I think this series demonstrates that photographers do not have to chase aesthetic beauty to tell an emotionally compelling narrative. It gives the blander images an evocative foundation and makes them interesting. And where the images are beautiful, the narrative is strengthened by them. This story makes me all too emotional, especially knowing that it has an unfortunate conclusion.

    I would like to add one additional thought, and it’s about cancer rather than photography. The article and some of the commenters above use words like fight and battle when describing their or others’ ordeals with the disease. Perhaps we need a new terminology when discussing this disease?

    Is it really a battle if it’s against your own body? The concept that someone can win their battle with cancer implies that another person can lose it. It creates a situation in which their are winners and losers, and doesn’t that demean the losers?

    I encourage anyone with interest in this topic to read the following articles: – Globe and Mail article written shortly after Jack Layton’s death.

  • I’m a social artists (oils,CG,Photography,mixed media).I am begining my last CHEMO Cycle for Stage 4 NHL.Though I’ve taken pics as well as videos,I want to take a photo a day begining the last day of chemo,until I grow back into my body as I heal from both cancer as well as side effects of chemo.I will be using a Digital Nikon.

    My question is this.What are the best techniques in terms of lighting,head shot vs full body,background color,etc.

    I probably should have done this project once I was diagnosed,but who thinks of art at a time like that.

    I now weigh 78 pounds and Because of hair loss,I look like the the banjo player in deliverance,Except my eyes are bigger and I’m female;-)

    I plan to make a sideshow,once the project is completed,so I also need to figure frame duration.As well as choice of BW or color etc.

    Any help,suggestions would be greatly appreciated

  • Correction.The project will begin on the first day of the last chemo cycle,not last day of chemo.

  • Heartbreaking and compelling. Thank you for sharing the precious life of your lovely wife, Jen. God bless her soul.

  • Myra

    The pictures are beautiful, your wife was beautiful and God bless your soul for loving another human being so unconditionally. You are a beautiful man, inside and out. If we could all find this kind of love, what lucky human beings we would all be!

  • Wife had breast removed yesterday, Find out results next Thursday, Trying to remain positive for kids on one hand and be prepared for the worst on the other.

    Sorry to hear about your loss Angelo, Your pictures speak more than a thousand words in each one of them, she looked like a beautiful lady and one that could never be replace nor forgotten.

    Thanks for sharing your pain to help others!

    God Bless you and your wife,


  • You are spreading your message, I’m in Scotland, Keep up the excellent work Angelo!

  • Elisha

    Both the photography and commentary ring true to home. My mother faced breast cancer, on and off, for eight years. She lost the great battle last September. I think of her everyday, and often times, remember the exact emotion these pictures portrayed– behind the scenes, after the calls and cards stop coming & the in-between no one wants to mention.

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