breast cancer art: through rose-colored glasses or with realism, Part II

Recently I wrote about a cancer support center in Cleveland, Ohio, The Gathering Place, that organized an exhibit of photography by the husband of a woman who died. The black and white photos depict his wife Jennifer’s journey with breast cancer and include both the good days and bad days. I am writing only what I have gleaned from reading the information online from both The Gathering Place and the comments. After TGP displayed the exhibit for a few days, volunteers working at the center recommended that the exhibit be removed because of negative comments from members of TGP whom they served.

TGP has received a frenzy of negative responses for having removed the exhibit  ranging from business aspects of breaking a contract to shame for a cancer center’s refusing to support a member of the cancer community whose catharsis was to share the journey he traveled with the love of his life. To me, the photos are more about the beauty, the love and the commitment of a spouse to his partner in life during one of the hardest journeys two people can take together. When so many relationships fail during such a dire time, I think it is so important to show that even during the worst of times, the dignity and power of love can still be a significant part of our raw experience with cancer. The exhibit teaches us that more than all of cancer’s suffering, love can continue to grow and enrich us.

I admit my initial reaction was personal because, as a member of the stage IV cancer community, I felt the familiar smart of rejection and the disillusionment with the world that does not want to recognize me. Yet, I understand that others might look at the photos and see only the suffering. They allow their own fear to judge the value of such images. Who should TGP support? Do they support one group while denying another group to share what they are enduring? I don’t know what the right answer is because I was not there; there may be no right or wrong answer to this difficult question, but it will rage on even as Merendino’s photos find a new venue and an audience who can hear what the images say. I’ve been there when members of a support group were more eager to tell me how I’d be all right than to listen to the story I needed to tell.

While I understand that some might not appreciate this exhibit, I still feel that closing the door on this exhibit at a cancer support center was like closing the door on us who are suffering the same fate. We may be at different points in the journey, but we have all felt the cold shoulder of denial and its rejection turning away from us as we try to be part of our own world. For the cancer world itself to shut the door on such an exhibit, it shuts the door in the face of all members of the stage IV cancer community. If not a cancer support center, who else will step up to the plate to teach people how to deal with the reality of this disease. We can only hope that many will learn a lesson from this experience and take it upon themselves to teach that lesson to others.

breast cancer art: through rose-colored glasses or with realism, Part I. By Donna Peach 7-27-12

Video of Merendino’s exhibit The Battle We Didn’t Choose, My Wife’s Fight with Breast Cancer at TGP. By Angelo Merendino 7-14-12

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© 2004–2012 Donna Peach. All rights reserved.

8 responses to “breast cancer art: through rose-colored glasses or with realism, Part II

  1. Removing those photos demonstrates a real lack of awareness on the part of TGP to understand their role. Cancer isn’t about pretty, and wigs, and smiles, and faking it. It’s about the beauty of the patient, the family, the spouse, that can, and does, arise at that time. It is about demonstrating to the world that love doesn’t stop when physical infirmities take over. The soul of the person does not alter because the physical does. I feel like they have slapped this man in the face, along with every other person fighting this battle. As we all know, the patient in cancer treatment gets help from a lot of resources, and often the spouse has to make it thru on their own. Families get cancer…not just the person with the cells. Entire families are in crisis, and need to be able to express their emotions in a safe place. This was his safe place, and it turned out to not be safe. Unfair….very unfair to all of you who have it, all of us who are fighting it and all of us who have had a spouse with it. I am mad for him and for you and for me. When my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV brain cancer we spent the better part of 11 months int he hospital cancer ward for treatments, surgeries, biopsies. I saw more than I would care to recall who brought a loved one to the hospital and never came back because they couldn’t face it. This man faced it and dealt with it the way he could. I would love to see his exhibit and hope he will put it on line one day so the world can share those moments with him. I have tears left to shed for my husband, for my friends, for other family members who have lost the battle to this disease. And fear for people like me who are just trying to get to a 5 year clean benchmark. TGP’s actions insult us all.

  2. I am sorry that was so long…I had to vent.

  3. Donna,
    You know I’m with you…… I blogged about this on Friday (with Angelo’s okay as I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to speak out (shocking, right?) as a non-metastatic patient. I don’t want to post the link here but if you want to see what I had to say, it’s the post dated 7/27…


    Hope you are feeling well…

  4. As a BC Thriver (I don’t like the word survivor), I found the pictures amazing and disturbing. But BC is amazing and disturbing and people should know the full story. I applaud Jennifer and Angelo as well as the others posted in a separate blog that you included on Friday, Donna. They have provided all of us with a gift and while the gift has many emotions tied to it, it is still quite a gift of love, courage and the fight to live. They should be shown and for this center to take down the exhibit makes me angry and doubtfull of their true mission. BC is not just pink ribbons and endless walks that provide little to help after paying administrative costs and expenses. It is so much more than that and these pictures capture the reality, the worry, the love, the hope, the triumphs and the loss. Thank you Jennifer and Angelo.

  5. I am just appalled by this. Who in the world would have negative comments about the photos displayed? Why, oh why? I have watched the videos and have gone to Angelo’s web page. I saw the video of the photos at TGP. I don’t understand the problem. This all just amazes me. And I am so, so sad. I was in tears watching the videos and looking at the photos. You are always in my prayers dear lady! I always wish you dreams of dancing. ♥

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