Last Saturday, Jim, the girls, our friend Sherry and I went into the city to see a photography exhibit, entitled Breast Cancer Captured Through the Eyes of Love. The photographer, Angelo Merendino, shared his wife Jennifer's battle with breast cancer through some of the most amazing photos I have ever seen. I had read their story online and started following his page on Facebook, when I learned that he was going to be bringing an exhibition of some of his photographs to Cleveland... to a local cancer support community called The Gathering Place. I looked forward to seeing the exhibit, especially since it was scheduled to take place at a TGP location on 'my' side of town. I had plans the night of the opening but hoped to get to TGP soon for the exhibit.
Unfortunately, the exhibit closed six days later. Even though TGP had agreed with Angelo about the photos to be shown, once they were up, there were complaints from clients and volunteers that the photos were too difficult to look at. A small furor played out here in Cleveland until a local gallery stepped forward and offered their space. So, Angelo's exhibit moved from the suburbs into the city, to Convivium 33.
After my disappointment about the loss of the original venue died down, I was glad that the exhibit was going somewhere I had never been. I was even more glad when we arrived at the gallery on Saturday morning. It's housed in a former Roman Catholic church. It is a beautiful space and was a wonderful setting for photos that showed true love in the midst of some of the worst experiences a family can endure.
I thought I might become emotional when I looked at the photos. And I did, but not for the reasons I expected. While some of the images were especially haunting, the ones that affected me most emotionally were of Jennifer in late stages, when she was bald and her face puffy from medication. Her brown eyes bore through the illness, looking into the camera lens. Some of the photos reminded me of my late friend Deb, who also fought breast cancer that metastasized to her brain... who also had deep brown eyes that made her beautiful even when the disease robbed her of her natural looks. I held it together, partly for myself and partly for the girls. I had debated whether to bring them or not. I didn't want them to be upset by the photos, or to feel like they were looking at my future. Before we went, I told them that if they couldn't take looking at the photos, that Jim or I would be happy to leave the gallery with them.
However, I needn't have worried. Our girls are constantly amazing, and showed it again at the exhibit. They looked at the photos thoughtfully, though Caroline did want to move along a bit faster than I did at times. I asked her if she was bothered by the photos but she said she wasn't. In the lobby of the gallery (the vestibule of the church) there were tree branches set up like a leafless tree. Note paper with attached ribbon was provided for anyone who would like to leave a message for Angelo. So, the girls and I took advantage of the opportunity to make a few notes:
The text reads: I'm 9 and LOVE photography. You're pictures are the most insparing yet. My mom has cancer. Hope comes from these pictures. (signed in cursive) Rebecca M.
NOW I wanted to shed some tears! Nobody prompted Rebecca to write any of that. The only help she got was to ask me how to spell "photography".
On the right: I LIKe your Art work
I'm 6 I Love Art (I re wrote those lines on the left as they were hard to read)
I believe she signed the back but I didn't get a photo of it.
Then my note: Angelo, as a cancer patient myself (kidney) this exhibit held special meaning for me. Your love for your wife and hers for you shines through your photos.
My husband and I brought our young daughters to your exhibit - I wasn't sure if they could handle it but they both were very touched. I don't know what my future holds but as long as I have the love and support of my family and friends, it will all be okay.
Thank you for sharing Jennifer with us.
For sure, some of the photos are difficult to look at. But it's part of cancer - it's not all about pink (or other color) ribbons. However, even when cancer and its deadly treatments ravage a person's body, their spirit still dwells inside them.