Photographic Illness Narratives: Photographic images and expressions around or about being ill.

See also: Illness Narratives; Poetry; Realism

No one has portrayed the largely invisible world of metastatic breast cancer more compellingly than photographer Angelo Merendino. Angelo began documenting his wife Jen’s illness photographically shortly after her diagnosis in 2008.

Just five months after they married, Angelo and Jen entered the world of cancer. After a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and reconstructive surgery they celebrated their first anniversary with the news that Jen was cancer free. Two years later, Jen had a metastasis to her liver and hip. Eventually the cancer went to her brain, and she died.

Angelo captured what it was like to endure ongoing treatments, side effects, emotional distress, compromised function, and the difficulties and uplifts of everyday living. He writes on his website: “My photographs show this daily life. They humanize the face of cancer, on the face of my wife.” Ever present behind the camera Angelo also documented the sadness, isolation, and love of a couple that would share a lifetime of experience in barely a few years. He and Jen wanted people to see what they were going through, so they could understand.

Angelo Merendino’s pictures eventually came together as a photo-documentary called, “The Battle We Didn’t Choose: My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer.” He shared the collection on his Website and in select venues while he continued to take new pictures and post them periodically on his Facebook page.

Watching the progression of Jen’s illness through these photographs gave viewers a chance to bear witness to Jen’s suffering, to the authenticity of her experience, to an essence of the human condition. It also filled many of us with deep sadness and a sense of dread. Many had personally seen the face of cancer before, up close. Too many times we witnessed its cruelty and the equally dire effects of its treatment. None of this was easy. Neither was learning of Jen’s death in December of 2011. She left a community of people, both virtual and real, in grief.

CNN’s Photo Blog shared Angelo’s collection with the nation a few weeks later, and comments poured in about the power of the images, which shared parts of life that were difficult and intimate. Jen’s life with cancer, captured on film, shared something true, simultaneously beautiful and heart wrenching. Too often these are the aspects of cancer that are hidden behind normalizing gestures or a strong and courageous front. For some, witnessing the realities of cancer is too much to bear. But unless we as a society are willing to see cancer for what it is, will we truly understand it?

Angelo Merendino’s book release, “The Battle We Didn’t Choose”

Angelo Merendino recently published a book of photographs to share the story of Jen and Angelo, with the desire to bring attention to the realities of daily life with cancer. Go here for more information.

Angelo Merendino celebrated what would have been his sixth wedding anniversary by releasing, “The Battle We Didn’t Choose — My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer” in digital book format. The photographs look inside the day-to-day life of a young couple facing breast cancer together. Angelo’s wife Jennifer died on December 22, 2011. More than a story about loss, theirs is a story about love and life. The book includes many photographs not shown elsewhere, audio narrations and videos, and a resource section. Available in English, Italian, Spanish, French, German and Russian.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, Angelo Merendino also shared his experience of life before, during, and after his experience as a caregiver as a TEDx talk, a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. Watch it now »

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