I was seven months pregnant with our twin boys when my husband, Justin, was admitted to the hospital with the cancer that would ultimately take his life. After being admitted, his health rapidly declined and we didn’t think he would make it out. With many prayers and a miracle, he lived to see the birth of our sons and enjoy a few precious months with them. The night before Justin passed away, we agreed he should write letters to the boys. Up until that point we had never discussed the topic of letters, because we knew the moment we did, we were accepting he was going to die. I remember his health being particularly poor that day, and I think I knew deep down it was the last night we would be together. He didn’t even have the chance to write the letters.
Justin and I had known each other pretty much our whole lives. We were friends in high school and even better friends in college. He always had a crush on me, but I wanted to be just friends. After writing letters back and forth during his mission, things started to change. He got home and we went on a couple dates, but timing still felt off. I ended up going on a mission a couple months later. After I got home from my mission we slowly started to talk again. Finally our timing aligned, and we started to date. We were married in May 2013, and I couldn’t have been happier with the way my life had turned out. It was easy marrying my best friend. It felt so right, and we were so happy.
A couple months after we were married, Justin was complaining about his chest hurting. He went to urgent care, and that’s when they found the tumor.
It felt like the room was moving in slow motion when I heard the word cancer come out of the doctor's mouth. How could this be happening? We were just about to start our lives together.
I had never been more terrified of the future. For a person with extreme anxiety, this was the worst case scenario. Within days, our lives were turned upside down. We moved back home to live with my parents, and Justin started treatments right away.
After months of enduring chemotherapy and going through surgery to remove the tumor, the cancer was gone! I felt so free and happy! The dark cloud of despair and gloom dissipated. Justin had his life back, and we were ready to live it to the fullest.
He was in remission for less than one year when they found a new tumor on a routine scan. I was so defeated. I felt every worried emotion one could feel. I immediately thought of God. I wanted to hate Him and never turn towards Him again. All these questions started to flow through my mind: How could He let this happen? We were good people doing what we were supposed to do, right? Why would God let this come back? I was once again consumed with darkness and despair.
After taking some time to process what had just happened, I started to think about the first time Justin went through cancer.
It was then that the Spirit hit me like a ton of bricks: the reason we made it through the first time was because of God. The hope we had in His plan and the Savior was the reason we were able to survive it the first time. My anger quickly turned to hope.
“The things we hope in sustain us during our daily walk. They uphold us through trials, temptations, and sorrow. Everyone has experienced discouragement and difficulty. Indeed, there are times when the darkness may seem unbearable. It is in these times that the divine principles of the restored gospel we hope in can uphold us and carry us until, once again, we walk in the light.” - Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Justin immediately started chemo, even though the doctors weren’t sure it would work. This new cancer was rare, and the odds were not in our favor. After some time they were able to find an outpatient chemotherapy that, while it didn’t shrink the tumor, prevented it from growing. We were happy Justin didn’t have to spend the night in the hospital to receive it. We were even happier they were able to find something to keep the cancer at bay. It was a tender mercy.
Life moved on, and we were able to live a semi-normal life again. Justin started working and going to school part-time. There were even times when we would forget he had cancer. It wasn’t until his monthly scan that we were pulled back to reality. Hope in the Savior allowed us to live life happily. We weren’t consumed with worry all the time.
We finally had time to start thinking about starting a family. Cancer had already taken so much away from us. Instead of living in our newlywed home, we were living at hospitals. Instead of spending our free time hiking and climbing, Justin was hooked to IVs. But there was one thing we weren’t going to let cancer take from us: the chance to start a family. Many people questioned our decision to have children. We knew that Justin's future was still uncertain, but we wanted to experience parenthood.
“The adversary uses despair to bind hearts and minds in suffocating darkness. Despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be. Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul, and deadens the heart. Despair can seem like a staircase that leads only and forever downward.
“Hope, on the other hand, is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion, and of fear.” -Dieter F. Uchtdorf
We chose to pierce darkness with hope and put our trust in our Heavenly Father. We had hope that Justin would be cured one day and wanted to keep moving forward. Through in vitro fertilization we were able to start a family. We decided to implant one embryo and were thrilled when my blood test came back positive! Our dream of being parents was becoming reality. Then we went in for our first ultrasound, and were shocked to find out that our one embryo had split into two. We were going to be parents of not only one little baby, but two. We were beyond excited!
Despite how awful Justin felt during that time, he did everything to help me through my in vitro fertilization and pregnancy. He gave me all my shots before he left for work and helped me during my morning sickness stage. I had almost three months left in my pregnancy when Justin was admitted to the hospital. We spent the next month there wondering if he would ever make it out. All my prayers were pleading with the Lord to just let him be there for the birth. I didn’t know if I would be strong enough to do it without him.
With many prayers answered, the doctors were able to find an antibiotic to fight the infection related to the tumor. He was able to come home a month before the babies were born. But the month-long visit in the hospital had weakened him tremendously. He came home with oxygen and needed assistance to do the simplest task. Our goal for that final month was to help him walk longer distances and get his strength up so that he could be at the birth.
A week before my due date, I was diagnosed with preeclampsia and had to be induced. Miraculously, Justin’s strength had improved enough to be at the birth. He had to come in a wheelchair and with oxygen, but he was there. My delivery was hard, but hearing Justin’s faint voice saying, “Come on, Jenn, you can do this!” gave me all the strength I needed to keep going. I was filled with joy and excitement to see our babies.
After the boys were born, we were able to spend a couple months together as a family. It’s not how we had originally pictured our first months as a family, but we were together. I allowed hope to fill our lives and we spent most of the time talking about our future and things we would do together. It meant everything to me to see him with his two boys. I am so grateful I will have those memories to tell the boys someday. I believe I needed that time in order to be strong enough to live on without him as a single mom. It was truly a miracle he lived as long as he did.
In the time since Justin’s passing, I’ve thought a lot about the letters he never wrote. At first I was devastated that I had no letters to give the boys. I was even angry at the hope we had that he would be cured. We could have planned better if we had never had hope. At least the boys would have letters from their father if we had never had hope.
But instead of dwelling on the possibility of his death, we chose to live each day talking about when he would take the boys fishing. When he would go back to work. Where we would go on our first family vacation. We believed and hoped he would get better, and we lived each day according to that belief.
I now realize that it was better for us to have hope. If it wasn’t for hope, he wouldn’t have lived as long as he did. If it wasn’t for hope, I wouldn’t have these two beautiful boys with me today. If it wasn’t for hope, we wouldn’t have had those couple months as a family of four. We never lived a day thinking he was going to die and that was the best way to live. Now my hope has shifted to knowing I will see him again. I have hope in that blessing promised to me.
“How great would be our sorrow—and justly so—if there were no resurrection! How miserable we would be if there were no hope of life eternal! If our hope of salvation and eternal reward should fade away, we would certainly be more miserable than those who never had such an expectancy.” - Spencer W. Kimball
In times of trial, we can choose despair and misery or hope and happiness. When the hard days come and we don’t think we can keep going, hope will get us through another day. I can look back on our journey and say we lived each day to the fullest. When we got bad news, we cried for a brief moment, but hope got us back up again. We chose hope instead of fear and I’ll forever be grateful for that decision. I have my two boys because of it.
Small Seed Copy Editor: Megan Grant
Jenn (her friends call her Coco) recently lost the love of her life to cancer, and is now a single mom of IVF miracle twin boys. She hopes to help others as she shares her journey as a new widow and mother of twins. You can connect with her on her blog Two Against One.