Q&A: Angelo Merendino, the Photographer Who Documented His Wife’s Battle with Breast Cancer

You must have seen his photos, which were recently circulated widely and are guaranteed to leave you in tears. New York photographer and loving husband Angelo Merendino documented his wife’s difficult battle with cancer. After his wife’s diagnosis, he started taking pictures of their struggle over the course of four years. Angelo’s project doesn’t only share his wife Jennifer’s story, it represents the stories of people who couldn’t share their own, of anyone who lost a special someone to cancer. These photos literally broke my heart and inspired me a lot as a person.

This interview is one of my favorites that I’ve ever done. This couple is so brave; they were brave enough to share those photos with the whole world to show people how brutal cancer is.

Here is what Angelo had to say about the project, the book, the journey and his advice to people going through similar hard times.



What made you decide to document you and your wife’s fight with breast cancer?

On September 1st, 2007, Jen and I were married in Central Park. It was a perfect day. I had never been so happy in my life and I couldn’t believe that this beautiful woman who was so full of life and love felt the same way about me as I did about her.

Five months later Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ll never forget the sound of Jen’s voice coming through the phone as she told me what the doctors said. I was numb immediately. I’m still numb.

We spent the next eight months going through treatment: double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and reconstructive surgery. Our support group was amazing. Family and friends sent cards, brought dinner, held fundraisers to help with our medical bills. It was really incredible and I had never witnessed such love and support.

Just past our one-year anniversary, our oncologist told us Jen was free of cancer and we started to put our life back together. It was difficult because we felt so different from most everyone else in our life. Everything we thought we knew, our whole world, had been leveled and mortality was real.

A year and a half later our biggest fear became our reality when a scan revealed that Jen’s cancer had metastasized to her liver and bone. Jen started treatment immediately and after a few months we started to notice that our family and friends didn’t understand how serious Jen’s illness had become and we felt our support group fading away.

Our life had turned into a maze filled with doctor’s appointments, medical procedures, medications and side effects. We didn’t expect anyone to have the answers; we just needed our family and friends to be there. Something as simple as sending a text message saying “I love you,” or dropping off dinner after we had spent all day in the hospital, these things made our day.

This is when I started photographing our day-to-day life.

Our hope was that if our family and friends saw what we were facing every day then maybe they would have a better understanding of the challenges in our life.


How did Jen feel about the project and being photographed in her most vulnerable time?

Jennifer felt it was important to share her experience so other women with breast cancer would not feel so alone. Jen trusted me and she knew that before I made any photographs I was taking care of her; she was always my first priority.


Was there any time that you felt hesitant about the project, or just felt too vulnerable to keep photographing?

I was and still am very aware of the emotions these photographs can trigger. My hope is not to scare people but to create dialogue. If we do not share our experiences with each other how can we learn and grow?


What was this experience’s impact on you?

I am much more aware of how fragile life is. I believe it is of great importance to appreciate every moment and to tell the people in our life how much we love them. Jennifer always encouraged me to follow my dreams and to trust myself. This experience has taught me to never give up.


There is a photo of people staring at beautiful Jen. What kind of mixed reactions did you two deal with?

On Friday, April 29th, 2011, Jennifer was admitted to the hospital. A year earlier Jen’s cancer had metastasized to her liver and bone. Walking was becoming more and more difficult; Jen was in tremendous pain. Our doctors did not know the exact reason for this pain and wanted to keep Jen in the hospital over the weekend for observation.

Fifteen days later we left the hospital. In addition to the IV PICC Line inserted into Jen’s arm and a shopping bag filled with daily medications, we also came home with a walker. Jen’s legs were getting weaker and her balance was shaky. We were advised to go for walks, which became an important part of our daily routine. We did not know it at the time, but Jen would never again walk without assistance.

In one way, it was a chance for us to be “normal,” just another young couple out for a walk. But we were anything but normal. A pain pump hung from Jen’s shoulder, pushing regular doses of methadone through Jen’s IV in an attempt to relieve her pain. We walked at a slow pace and a few blocks felt like miles. There were times when Jen, 39 years old, would get exhausted. We would stop and sit on a bench so Jen could gather the strength necessary to walk the few blocks back to our apartment.

People stared – men, women and children, couples, families and friends. At first we shrugged the looks off, joking, “Three, two, one and cue the staring passerby.” But the more it happened, the more we wanted to shout, “Cancer!”

We struggled to explain the impact of this experience to others, so I began making these photographs. I did not want the camera to influence reactions so I carried it down by my side, aiming in the direction of the oncoming person or people. Chances are I will never know what the people in these photographs were thinking.

We all look, we observe. What’s different can cause us to stop and look twice. Maybe we are confused or frightened. Maybe we relate, or maybe this is just a part of learning and a desire to understand.


What’s your all-time favorite photo from the whole project?

I cannot pick just one. Some of my favorites are the photos I made of the two of us together. I can still feel Jen’s skin and smell her perfume.


You’ve recently published an eBook about the battle; can you tell us more about it?

I have released our story as an eBook that is available for the iPad. There is also a PDF for computers. Both versions contain photographs, text, audio and video. 50% of the net profits will be donated to The Love You Share, a non-profit organization I am starting in Jennifer’s honor to assist women receiving treatment for breast cancer.


You are adding a “Loved Ones Photograph” page to your website. What is it all about?

So many people have shared our story. I’d like to do something to honor the memory of of the loved one’s of all of these people.


What is your advice to people going through similar situation?

You are not alone. Jen and I often felt so different from everyone else and this is natural. The more we opened up the more others responded to us.

I think it helps to express feelings when going through something like this. Making photographs worked for me but maybe it is writing, painting, or something else for another person. Do something to get these feelings out of your body.


Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Everyone is different and each of us has our own way of facing and dealing with challenges. Sharing our experience helped Jennifer and me because we didn’t keep everything bottled up inside. By sharing our story, something beautiful is beginning to grow from something so horrible and unfair. If we don’t share our experiences with each other how can we grow, learn and survive?


WE SAID THIS: You can also see all those photos and more on his Facebook page and make sure to check his TEDXUSU talk below.