About a year ago a friend posted a link to a Facebook page called, “My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer.” I was intrigued, clicked on the link, and then was transported into the most beautiful love affair. Angelo Merendino was using his camera to document his wife’s breast cancer treatment. He was doing with photos what I was doing with words — raising awareness to educate others about The Beast and how it impacts the lives of those who have moved to Cancerville.
(All photos courtesy of Angelo Merendino at My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer)
I felt an immediate kinship.
The love between Angelo and Jen is palpable, practically leaping off the screen. It is real and intense and beautiful. I felt both honored and voyeuristic when looking at the images, and I couldn’t stop. Jen is beautiful. Even now, ten months after her death from breast cancer at age 40, it is hard to imagine that the warm light in her eyes no longer shines. The beauty of photography is that it captures so much nuance. Angelo’s lens has made cancer real for thousands and thousands.
Jen, too, had a blog that I read. Her writing was spare and direct, her words were honest and powerful. The images, though, are what fleshed Jen out for me. Caught in intimate poses — painting toenails on a windowsill and applying mascara in the bathroom mirror and being stared at by strangers as she used a walker on the streets of Manhattan. Jen was your sister, your friend, your aunt, your neighbor, your daughter, your wife.
Another thing I responded to was that Jen and Angelo were fearless with what they showed to the camera. The camera was not put away when things got tough. The photos show us that despite Jen’s beauty, cancer is not pretty. Chemo changes how we look, just as the cancer does. Eyes hollow, cheeks swell, limbs lose strength, and hair falls out. It is what happens.
And Angelo has not gone away. He continues to point his camera and make a difference. We see his grief from the back of a limosine trailing a hearse, we see the gravestone that marks Jen’s resting place. This, too, is cancer. Sometimes, that sad reality gets lost in the pink of October, and rhetoric about “winning the battle” and “beating the odds,” as if those folks who have died, the Jens and the Donnas, somehow lost or were bested or gave up.
Angelo’s documentary of Jen’s cancer has received wide acclaim. Next month, they will show in a gallery in Perugia, Italy. They have been featured on CNN, USA Today, The Guardian, and The Cleveland Plain Dealer. People respond to them because they are so strikingly honest. And hopeful.
Angelo has created an Indiegogo campaign to fund both a traveling exhibition of the photos and an accompanying book. He is trying to raise $71,500 to make this a reality. He is asking for our help.
October is rampant with pink. It is everywhere, from NFL players to kitchen mixers to garbage trucks. We are given opportunities to buy pink socks and pink bowls and pink t-shirts and pink mugs to “support the cause.” Awareness has been raised, there is no question about that. The more relevant question, I think, is what are we aware of now?
Angelo’s camera and photographs are a greater testament to awareness than any product you can buy. By helping to support his campaign, you are helping to make a person with cancer feel less alone, grieve more easily, express their fears and worries and joys in the midst of cancer. These are all such valuable things.
I encourage you to take a look at his work that will take you into the inner sanctum of cancer and love and life. If it moves you, as it has me, offer a few dollars if you have them so that others can learn and feel less alone. If you don’t have them, please share this post on your social media feeds. Tell others that they can support breast cancer awareness without promoting consumerism.
Angelo is my neighbor in Cancerville. Now I also call him friend. We get to meet next month and trade war stories over drinks. This both excites and humbles me. I will be helping my friend and neighbor. I hope you will, too.
RIP, Jen. Angelo will meet you there.