Angelo Merendino loved his wife, Jennifer. He loved her so much that he proposed within six months of their first date, and less than a year later, they got married.
Five months after their wedding in Manhattan's Central Park, Jen was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Angelo’s love didn’t waver. He decided to document their cancer journey in a series of photographs that shows Jennifer’s battle with the disease that eventually took her life.
“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,” Merendino writes on his website. “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.”
From 2010 to 2011, Merendino, 39, took a series of photos that he titled, “The Battle We Didn’t Choose.” The images show Jennifer throughout her fight. In one, the couple sports clown noses, in another Jennifer is in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV. The final photos are perhaps the most heartbreaking: an empty hospice bed, a hearse visible from a car’s windshield, and a photo of her tombstone.
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Merendino’s images went viral. His Facebook page has more than 87,000 likes, his photos have been covered by numerous media outlets and shared on Reddit.
“I don't think a photograph, or series of photographs, have ever made me cry so much... It was like watching my aunt die all over again,” one Redditor wrote.
“Cancer sucks. It took my mom. I understand the purpose of this story and find it very touching, but I'm glad we didn't document her illness. I want to remember her when she was healthy and happy,” another posted.
For Merendino, the photos signify something beyond a devastating disease.
“There’s a lot in the world that’s negative, and even though Jen passed, I’m happy we could put something out there that’s about love and life,” Merendino told Fox News. “These photos aren’t just about cancer, they’re about living life.”
On Sept. 1, on what would have been their six-year wedding anniversary, Merendino released a book of their story on iTunes. He also founded The Love You Share, a nonprofit organization, in Jennifer’s memory that will provide financial assistance to cancer patients in treatment.
Merendino says the photos have helped him cope with Jennifer’s death, and remind him of how much she loved life.
“The night she came home from the hospital after we found out her liver was failing, we thought she might be alive for three days, maybe a week,” Merendino said. “We came home, and some of our family and close friends were there, and we spent a very surreal evening together. When everyone left, I asked her what she loved most that day. I’ll never forget how she turned and looked and said, ‘I loved it all.’”