When Angelo Meredino speaks of his wife, his voice fills with passion. As he described Jen to me, I could practically hear a smile forming on his face. "Jen was always determined. She was always able to find the good in things. These are some of the things that made me fall in love with her.These are the reasons why I wanted to marry her", he tells me. It was these very qualities that Angelo saw blossom during Jen's four year battle with cancer. "She never complained. She saw the importance in life. Jen was the real deal".
Angelo has grown to know cancer well. Both of his parents are cancer survivors. His dad had lung cancer when he was 20 and his mom had breast cancer as he approached age 30. Although Angelo agrees that cancer opens one's eyes in general, he feels he didn't have the life experience to really understand cancer during his parents' illnesses.
Five months after their September 2007 wedding in Central Park, Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer.During her four year battle, Angelo and Jen saw the human side of cancer. Angelo picked up his camera and began to document their daily life from doctor visits to treatment sessions. "My photographs show this daily life. They humanize the face of cancer, on the face of my wife. They show the challenge, difficulty, fear, sadness and loneliness that we faced."
Angelo and Jen quickly learned that cancer is a reality many don't want to hear about. Although Angelo has received overwhelming support for his photo series, many people have asked him "Why show this? Life is hard enough". In many ways, such reactions are the exact reason Angelo has decided to share these photos. "This is real life. How will we ever learn if we hide from reality?"Cancer is that "elephant in the room". Often friends and family are unsure of what kind of support to give to loved ones battling cancer. A friend coming over to hold Jen's hand, a relative ordering Jen and Angelo's favorite food for dinner and Angelo's brother coming to the hospital to just sit with Jen brought the greatest forms of comfort.
When I ask Angelo what he learned about himself during those four years, he pauses. "I now know that whatever comes my way I'll figure it out. I now appreciate that I can wear my heart on my sleeve. I tell people "I love you"without reservation, without expecting them to say it back."
Jen's memory just doesn't live on in these photos. Jen "planted seeds while she was here". In 2009, Jen helped to form the Empire Dragon Boat Team. The team consists of over 25 cancer survivors." It is the "only breast cancer survivor dragon boat team in New York City and it belongs to the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission".
"Jen and I had dreams. We wanted to grow old together, we wanted to have a family, but I am so thankful for my time with her. Those were some of the best years of my life".