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Division Of Interdisciplinary Studies At The Center For Worker Education

Alumni Spotlight

Shaving Jens head at the hospital

 

The Battle They Didn’t Choose

CWE Alum Jennifer Merendino’s Fight with Breast Cancer told the through the Lens of her Husband Former CWE Student Angelo Merendino

Their black & white photos have been seen throughout the world and their story has made the headlines of every major media outlet. The photographs are as much about their battle with breast cancer as it a testament to their unbelievable love for one another and life. CWE Alum Jennifer Merendino's fight with Breast cancer was captured through the lens of her husband, former CWE student Angelo Merendino as a mechanism of communicating with family and friends. While she died December 22, 2011, her spirit lives forever in the powerful collection entitled, "The Battle We Didn't Choose: My Wife's Fight with Breast Cancer." Over 72,000 people have liked them on Facebook and the photos will soon be made into a book. Jen, as she was affectionately called, moved to New York from Ohio in 2005. A transfer student from the University of Akron and Cleveland State University, Jen landed a job at Keal's as an executive assistant and started CWE in the spring 2006. "She always planned on completing her degree," recalls her husband. "She had to go in the evening. She found CWE and saw it as a great place to accommodate her work schedule."

Shortly after she started at CWE, the two began dating. “I knew at first sight I would marry her,” Merendino says. Six months later, Merendino packed up his belongings and flew to New York with an engagement ring in his pocket. “I sold everything except my cameras, drums and my cat,” says Merendino. “One of Jen’s best friends Beth helped me find a ring and she knew her ring size. I picked the ring and asked her parents for permission.” That night, October 3, 2006, at their favorite Italian restaurant—Frank’s in the Lower East Side— he proposed. Less than a year later, they were married in Central Park surrounded by 50 of their closest family and friends. “I was 42 and Jen was 34,” says Merendino of their non-traditional wedding. Merendino wore Chuck Taylor’s (sneakers) and Jen, her flip-flops. “We had been through enough relationships and knew what we didn’t want. It was Jen and me vs. the world.” Five months after they were married, Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Merendino had started classes at CWE in the fall of 2007. “My time at CWE inspired me to have new thoughts and different ways of thinking,” he says. “I was very inspired by the instructors who were dedicated to helping us as adults to continue our education.” Unfortunately, he couldn’t finish school. Jen was diagnosed with cancer in 2008 and his focus became taking care of her. Jen, who had ambitions of being a schoolteacher, graduated magna cum laude from CWE in February 2010.

Merendino started documenting Jen’s day-to-day life with cancer in 2010. Jen also kept a blog and was open about her experience.  Their first exhibit was held in Cleveland a month before Jen died.  “Jen was in the hospital at the time,” says Merendino. “She called in on the phone to speak to everyone. It was really amazing to be in this room and hear her voice come through. I knew things weren’t going well. I was glad that before she passed she saw the photographs in this way.”

After Jen’s passing, for much of 2012, Merendino stood in front of his computer screen looking at photographs and editing them as a way of dealing with his loss. “Different photographs have different meanings,” says Merendino, who plans to start a non-profit in Jen’s honor. Nine exhibits have been showcased up until now. “I hope when people see our photographs, they can see past the cancer and see the love in the photographs and the life that Jennifer was determined to live.”

For more on the exhibit, go to http://mywifesfightwithbreastcancer.com/.