A New York love story
New Yorkers Angelo and Jen Merendino were married at the 100th Street Pool in Central Park on September 1, 2007.
Jen discovered the spot, Angelo said, and “loved that it was this place in the heart of New York City where you could be surrounded by trees and grass and not see even a spot of concrete.”
Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer five months later.
Angelo remembers acutely the moment Jen called and told him.
“I just remember at that point feeling like, this is what I do now,” Angelo said. “My wife has breast cancer and I’m going to take care of her.”
They went through treatment, a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and reconstructive surgery, all in the first year of their marriage.
Angelo recalled the steadfast support group of family and friends who he says carried them through the experience, with visits and calls and benefits to raise money for medical expenses.
“Different people go through this in different ways, but we wanted that and I can’t imagine how we could’ve gotten through that without them,” Angelo explained.
For the next several years, the Merendinos enjoyed their lives and their city as best they could: the Upper West Side neighborhood they lived in and loved “because it has such a nice family feel but at the same time there were wonderful restaurants and Riverside Park was close”; roaming around the West Village, another one of their favorite areas and the neighborhood where Jen worked; dinners at Trattoria Spaghetto on Carmine Street and the restaurant FRANK in the East Village, where Angelo proposed to Jen in October 2006, the very night he moved to the city to be with her.
But it was hard to be truly at ease.
“It wasn’t like, OK, the cancer’s gone, get back to where you were a year ago,” Angelo said. “No, you’re going to take drugs for the next five years at least, need scans all the time, and always be worrying that every bump or bruise is the cancer coming back.”
In April 2010, they found out the cancer had metastasized to her liver and bones.
“Our biggest fear was now our reality,” Angelo recalled.
Angelo starting photographing everything around them after Jen’s cancer returned.
He was motivated, he said, by the absence he and Jen felt, compared to the strong support that had rallied around them the first time.
“We didn’t know if they didn’t understand how serious it had become, or if they were as in shock or as frightened as we were,” Angelo recalled. “We just knew that we needed them. We tried talking to them and people just weren’t responding.”
So, he said, he thought if he could show what his and Jen’s lives now looked like — Jen tired and in pain after a doctor visit; their refrigerator with syringes of medication tucked between milk and ketchup — maybe he could help people understand.
A friend proposed he share them online. The photos — a visual story of their love and her demise — have become an internet sensation; Angelo is working with an editor on putting together a book of them.
Jen was also keeping a blog.
She chronicled her pain as well as the joys in her days, mostly revolving around Angelo and anyone else who visited or called.
On October 8, an anonymous blog-reader sent flowers; Jen was moved to tears.
About a month later, she wrote, “I had some lovely visitors this past weekend that made me laugh and then cry when they had to go home.”
Those were her last days, often spent in the hospital. At the end of September she wrote about her legs giving out from under her while she walked, and how frightened she was and grateful that Angelo was there to pick her up.
“Every time I cry it hurts,” she wrote.
But in Angelo’s memory, one of their loveliest moments was in those final days.
Angelo remembers the day they were told Jen may only have a few days to live. They came home and spent the evening with family and friends.
In the last few months of Jen’s life, they would ask one another every night what the worst and best part of their days were, always saving the best for last.
That night, as they lay beside each other, Angelo asked her what she loved most about the day.
Angelo recalls she was quiet, and “stared more deeply into my eyes than she ever had before.”
“I loved it all,” she replied.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat