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.5 6 7 8
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