In an incredible photo story called The Battle We Didn't Choose, Angelo Merendino documented his wife Jennifer's journey from being diagnosed with breast cancer, receiving the all clear, then being re-diagnosed with metatastic breast cancer.
She passed away on 22 December, 2011.
There are few words that can sum up an entire life so completely, that capture the tiny moments of happiness (whether it's sharing a beer in the sunshine) and the dark points of pain (the dishevelled sheets of a hospital bed), and Angelo has shown us a glimpse into what it must have been like for him.
On his website, he writes: "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, that Jennifer faced, as she battled this disease. Most important of all, they show our love. These photographs do not define us, but they are us."
HuffPost UK Lifestyle interviewed Angelo to find out more about their story:
What made you want to document your wife's cancer?
I knew the first time I saw Jennifer that she was the one. I was applying for a job as a bartender at a restaurant in Cleveland, and Jen was the manager. I got the job and about a month later Jen moved to Manhattan to take a job with L'Oreal. We were just friends at this point and after Jen moved I couldn't stop thinking about her.
The following winter I was visiting Jen in New York and I finally worked up the courage to share my feelings - I turned into a third grader and told her I had a crush on her. As soon as I said this I thought, "What did I just say?" Then Jen's eyes lit up and she said, "I feel the same way."
We dated long distance and really learned how to communicate with each other, how to listen. After six months the distance became too much and I moved to Manhattan. On the night I arrived in town Jen and I celebrated by having dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Frank. After dinner I got down on one knee and proposed to Jen.
The following fall we 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. Before that moment the furthest thought from my mind was that I might be a widower before I was 40.
What was it like after she was diagnosed?
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. Our life had turned into a maze filled with doctor 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. ]
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.
You said you wanted to humanise it - do you think that some people don't understand the disease?
We noticed that many people didn't understand what we were facing and we felt our support group fading away. We would often hear things like, "You just have to be positive," or, "You can't think bad thoughts." We knew people meant well but it wasn't just about thinking good thoughts.
Jen's cancer was spreading and there was a good chance that the treatment wasn't going to work. It was serious. Without being in our shoes, how could people understand? 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. You don't have to know the answers, you just have to be there.
What legacy would you like your wife to have?
For the last few months of Jennifer's life we would ask each other before going to sleep what the best and worst part of the day was. The day after we found out Jen's liver was failing we came home with Hospice Care and spent the evening with family and friends. Before going to sleep I asked Jen what she loved the most about the day. Jen thought for a moment then turned and looking deeper into my eyes than ever before, she said, "I loved it all."
Even in the darkest time Jen saw something light.
I've been humbled by the response to our love and seeing our story help others has been the thread that has kept me together since Jen died. I think our story is about love and life more than death and loss. I hope people stop for a minute to tell the people in their life how much they love them. I hope couples let go of silly arguments and hold each other close. I hope people will reach out to loved ones who are facing a challenging time in life. I hope our story encourages dialogue.
Angelo has just released an eBook about their story that is available for the iPad and as a PDF. You can purchase a copy from his website My Wife's Fight With Breast Cancer - 50% of the net profit of book and print sales will be donated to The Love You Share, a non-profit he is starting in Jennifer's honor to assist women receiving treatment for breast cancer.