Angelo Merendino Photo-Documentary, “The Battle We Didn’t Choose”

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. It was just five months after they had gotten married that Angelo and Jen entered the world of cancer. After a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and reconstructive surgery the couple celebrated their first anniversary with the news that Jen was cancer free. Two years after that, 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.

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 is planning to publish 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. He is raising funds for the project with an Indiegogo campaign. Watch an interview with Angelo Merendino on the Breast Cancer Consortium’s videos page.


BCCQ publishes photographs and illustrations from freelance artists and photographers whose work provides critical social commentary on the culture of breast cancer. If your work fits this description, please consider submitting your work.

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