Just two months after they were married in June 2013, Jennifer and Justin Hanks got the shocking news that Justin had testicular cancer. They were anticipating a long happy life together, and suddenly that life was changed forever.
The newlyweds were confronted with the world of cancer.
“When Justin was first diagnosed with cancer I had no idea the world we were about to enter. Cancer has its own community, language, and terminology. We had no clue,” wrote Jennifer Hanks.
The couple was determined not to let cancer ruin their entire lives. They dreamed of starting a family and knew that time was limited. If they didn’t go ahead then they knew they would someday have regrets. They chose to go forward, believing in a future in which Justin would survive. It was a difficult decision, shared only with close friends and family at first.
Jennifer explained told PEOPLE:
“We didn’t want cancer to hold us back anymore, because that’s what it was doing. We wanted to choose that he would get better,” Jennifer says. “If he was cured of cancer five years from now and we never decided to have a family and it was too late we’d have regrets. We didn’t want [cancer] to control our decision to have kids. It’s what we both wanted.”
So the couple went forward with in vitro fertilization and found out their efforts were successful in September 2017. In fact, their efforts paid off double.
“A year ago today we transferred one little embryo. A couple weeks later we got the news that it had worked. Then a couple weeks after that, we found out we were having twins!”
Jennifer waited for the right moment and surprised Justin with the news that he would be a father to two twin boys.
“He was so happy to be a dad,” Jennifer recalls of Justin. “The second we found out we were having twins he was stoked. Then when we found out we were having boys he was just so excited. We were so happy.”
They shared the news that they would have not one, but two babies with their excited extended family.
The excitement of expecting the arrival of the twins seemed to have a positive effect on Justin’s health. Keeping up the fight, he continued chemotherapy and had three surgeries. All the while, he somehow continued to work, go to school, and care for his wife. They believed that he would make it.
“He was going to work and school and he would do chemo,” she tells PEOPLE. “On mornings he wasn’t feeling so well, he’d still get up and make me breakfast. He was awesome.”
Then, when Jennifer was seven months into the pregnancy, Justin’s health suddenly took a turn for the worse. Doctors gave the couple the grim news that he might not survive to see the birth of his boys, but Justin was determined. Although he was in pain, he would not give up.
On April 10, 2018, he witnessed the birth of Everett and Marshal Hanks. He coached his wife as she went into labor.
“Come on, Jenn, you can do this!”
“It was amazing. I felt like I was witnessing a miracle,” she said.
“I knew how badly he wanted to be here, so for him to get a chance to see and have that moment with his boys was everything. Now I can say he had that moment. I think that is gonna help me move forward.”
For the next several months, the family bonded together and enjoyed every moment. Then just as they thought he would recover, Justin suddenly died in his sleep on July 7.
Carrying on without her husband was unexpected and final, but now the single mom says she has no regrets for sharing her life with Justin, and his two sons. There is a sense of relief that he is no longer suffering and that cancer is no longer a part of their daily lives. The fight went on for five long years.
On her personal blog, Coco’s Caravan, Hanks explained:
“In a world of cancer, we lived in constant worry and anxiety. I always had a black cloud hovering over me, no matter what I did or where I went. There were moments of joy where I would forget the dark cloud, but it never truly left.”
The constant struggle against cancer was finally over. Although she would give anything to have him back, she’s relieved he is no longer in pain.
“I had a lot of emotions when Justin passed away and one of them was relief. I felt relief because he was no longer in pain. I didn’t have to watch him suffer anymore and I knew he was finally at peace.”
Now the young mom can tell her sons the story of their loving father, and how seeing them born into the world was ultimately his greatest joy and legacy.
To learn more, you can follow Jennifer Hanks at Coco’s Caravan on Facebook and Instagram.
Featured image: Screenshot via Instagram/cocoscaravan