A touching tribute: Husband chronicles wife's breast cancer battle in photos

Image: Jennifer Merendino
Angelo Merendino
Happy together: Angelo and Jennifer Merendino in July 2006, before Jennifer's cancer diagnosis.Today

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.

Jennifer Merendino received her diagnosis five months after she and Angelo got married in Central Park.Today

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.  

"With each challenge we grew closer," Angelo Merendino wrote on his website. "Words became less important."Today

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.

"Throughout our battle we were fortunate to have a strong support group," Angelo Merendino wrote, "but we still struggled to get people to understand our day-to-day life and the difficulties we faced."Today

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.

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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.

"At 39 Jen began to use a walker and was exhausted from being constantly aware of every bump and bruise," Angelo Merendino wrote. "Frequent doctor visits led to battles with insurance companies. Fear, anxiety and worries were constant."Today

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.

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"Maybe, through these photographs," Angelo Merendino wrote, "the next time a cancer patient is asked how he or she is doing, along with listening, the answer will be met with more knowledge, empathy, deeper understanding, sincere caring and heartfelt concern."Today

The couple were grateful to have been part of so many generous acts. “We wanted to keep that circle from breaking,” he said.

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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.

"We had just been admitted to Urgent Care and Jen was in worse pain than I'd ever seen," Angelo Merendino said of this moment in September 2011. "Doctors worked to find the right medication but it's never fast enough."Today

“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?”

Jennifer and Angelo Merendino in September 2011. Angelo wrote on his website that his photographs "do not define us, but they are us."Today
Women from Jennifer's breast cancer support group hold and kiss Jennifer 10 days before her death in December 2011.Today
Jennifer Merendino died at 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 22, 2011. Angelo took this photo on Dec. 23 after his wife's body was taken away.Today