From the moment he met his future wife, Jennifer, Angelo Merendino was smitten. So much so that when, just a month later, she left their hometown of Cleveland to move to New York, the photographer followed her there and eventually asked her to marry him.
They tied the knot in Central Park in September 2007. Five months after that, however, Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I remember the exact moment,” Merendino recalls on his website, mywifesfightwithbreastcancer.com. “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’.”
Less than four years after her diagnosis, at the age of 40, Jennifer was dead. Yet her husband had chosen to document her experience of the disease in the way he knew best: by photographing it. His moving, monochrome images portray the “daily life” of a cancer sufferer, he says. “They humanise 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.”
After four years of treatment, Jennifer suffered from side effects that left her in perpetual pain. A year before her death, she was reduced to using a walker to move around. She was in and out of hospital, often for 10 days at a time, and the couple did battle constantly with America’s private health insurance companies to get compensation. “Fear, anxiety and worries were almost constant,” Merendino writes.
“Throughout our battle we were fortunate to have a strong support group but we still struggled to get people to understand our day-to-day life and the difficulties we faced… Sadly, most people do not want to hear these realities and at certain points we felt our support fading away.”
The photographs, which Merendino has now collected in a book, The Battle We Didn’t Choose, document not only Jennifer’s dramatic physical decline, but also the couple’s unwavering devotion to one another. Fifty per cent of the profits from its publication will go to The Love You Share, a non-profit organisation founded by Merendino to provide financial support to women receiving treatment for breast cancer.