Before Angelo Merendino’s wife Jennifer died of breast cancer at age 40, he asked her permission to create a legacy in her name.
That effort gained incredible momentum when Merendino, a photographer, posted intimate, black and white pictures online documenting their life before the diagnosis and the exhausting rounds of hospital visits and chemotherapy.
Sometimes Jennifer is shown grimacing, but Merendino mostly captures her broad, infectious smile, hints of which can be seen even in the final days of her life in December 2011.
These photos, which Merendino posted on his website and published two months ago in an e-book, ricocheted across the Internet and prompted an outpouring of sympathy and support.
Now, he wants to touch people’s lives in a different way — by starting a non-profit organization, The Love You Share, in Jennifer’s name.
“I just wanted to do something that would give back, and not just to the people who helped us,” Merendino, 40, told TODAY.com.
The Love You Share, which is pending IRS approval as a tax-exempt organization, will provide financial assistance to cancer patients while they are receiving treatment. Focusing on seemingly small gestures, like providing meals or gift cards to the grocery store and reimbursing transportation costs, the organization is meant to lighten the burden on already overwhelmed patients and caregivers.
In addition to Merendino, who lives in Cleveland, the organization’s board has four members, each of whom was dear to Jennifer: her oncologist, her boss, a colleague and a good friend.
Merendino didn’t know how his non-profit would help others at first, but he felt strongly that it should express the couple’s sense of gratitude. In addition to a strong support network of friends and family, Jennifer also felt she benefited from those who were brave enough to participate in clinical trials.
The couple were grateful to have been part of so many generous acts. “We wanted to keep that circle from breaking,” he said.
More than anything, Merendino hopes his efforts spark a dialogue about cancer, and how to treat a friend or family member sick with the disease. Though the couple enjoyed the support of many loved ones, there were others who didn’t quite know what to say or do following the diagnosis and throughout treatment.
“If you know someone who has breast cancer, you don’t have to have the answer — just be there,” Merendino said. “Send a text message that says I love you. Send dinner. Go sit with them.
“If we don’t talk about it,” he said, “how can you be there for someone?”