This is NOT Jennifer….this is Jennifer’s Dad. This is the second of three blog posts Jennifer has let me do. If you want to read Part 1 you can click HERE. As I was going through some old pictures recently I was reminded, in pictorial format, of the events of the last year. Some are tender, some are thrilling, but this is my attempt to share some of my memories through mostly pictures that I found on my computer.
In February of 2018 my father died. He was 98 years old and wanted nothing more than to never be 99. His life was a great tribute to virtue and honor and all that is good in the world.
My main concern with my father’s passing was that Justin was too sick to come to the funeral. He loved my dad and they had a wonderful relationship. After the funeral we went over to Justin and Jennifer’s home to see them. He was sick, but happy and energetic. We loved talking to him, and mostly I loved taking him awesome food!
The following picture for me is memorable as it is the last picture I had on my camera from before he was admitted. Justin was still feeling very sick and Jennifer was 7 months pregnant with the twins at this point.
On Valentine’s Day 2018 Justin went to the hospital and was immediately admitted, and then taken to the ICU. He was sick…very sick. He had gotten a cold at work and the process of that cold seemed to trigger many different negative effects that made things more and more difficult in the hospital. Still, I will never forget that while in his hospital bed Justin called his family around and we talked about the faith, the plan of salvation, how to get him as healthy as possible, how to prepare for the boys, and a host of similar topics. Even still today I am impressed remembering those conversations which he lead.
And…during this time that Justin was in the hospital, Jennifer was progressively more and more pregnant!
For a time we worked to get Justin healthy. However, sometimes he would have very bad times and even had at least one code called on him. As the medical personnel at the University of Utah continued to work on Justin and we continued to have daily updates from the rounding team, it became clear that this was very, very serious. When we saw an x-ray we could see that the cancer had taken over one of this lungs and was now part way through his only good lung.
The realization of where we were from a medical stand point was so difficult to hear, and for me and Linda (and for Justin’s parents) it was almost unbearable to watch. I have heard what it is like to watch your children go through times like this, but the actual process was truly almost unbearable. The central moment was a visit we had with the same surgeon who had worked on Justin a few years earlier. He was truly loving and kind and respectful in every sense. Still, he was firm and open about Justin’s situation. It felt to me at the time that he wanted to make sure that we knew he cared very much, but that we should harbor no illusions about Justin’s situation.
He told us that he would not operate on Justin as that the surgery would certainly kill Justin and even if he was successful, he would not be able to get the entire tumor and we would be right back where we are now. Ethically, he correctly explained to us, he could not be a part of that. As hard as that was to hear, I understood his position. Spending a career on the other side of the healthcare equation did not prepare me for what it was like to hear that. The message was hard.
Justin and Jennifer, faced with the realization of what may be, spent some time alone, and then took a walk together. As they sat in the lobby holding each other I took this picture. Seeing it today brings back the memories and is truly almost more than I can stand to look at, even now. I wondered and wondered why such a thing would happen to such good kids. I wished over and over I could change places with Justin. I wished so many things….but there we were, with the reality of what was happening.
Even with this feedback and realization from the medical personnel, we were faced with the prospect of what to do. Do we give up? That was an easy question for those of us not faced with the pain and agony of the situation in which Justin found himself. Fighting on was easier for me than for Justin. Still, in one of many acts of courage Justin decided that he wanted to live and wanted to see his sons. Jennifer was right there with him. I’ll never forget how these two kids (truly…they are kids) reached down and found the courage to do this amazing thing. So, on we went.
And, over time, Justin began to improve. Bit by bit we could see him gaining strength. I believe that the goal of the medical personnel at the hospital was to simply get Justin to see the birth of his babies. They never said this to me, but I know that they knew the magnitude of the situation and were looking for a great success in having Justin see his sons.
Our sites were much higher, and for a time we saw improvement, and smiles. Smiles are always good.
And, still, Jennifer was getting more pregnant every day. It was so nice to have family there, and some amount of support and optimism. Sisters and sisters-in-law played such a great role in that kind of support!!! Thank you Maria and Emily! ☺
As Justin got well enough to consider going home, he was able to get up and around a bit more. Walking in and seeing Jennifer and Justin sitting up and talking about life was such a refreshing moment. And, we lived by the moments. Any positive sign or improvement was just that…a positive sign or improvement. We looked for white blood cell count improvement, temperature stabilization, blood pressure and smiles…anything. Seeing Jennifer and Justin sitting up talking was a wonderful moment!
Finally, Justin got well enough to go home…kind of. My sister Yvonne and brother-in-law David were kind enough to let us use her basement as we needed space for parents and in-laws and family. They were so nice to help us. And now that we were home we were focused on only two things…getting Jennifer to her due date and getting Justin well enough to get to the delivery. Success on both counts…and again, those things were both so important as we worked for day-to-day improvement. But, I must admit…it took a lot of ice cream for the pregnant girl to make that happen! ☺ ☺
And then the day finally came. Jennifer went into labor. But, on the way to the hospital, she decided to pose for one final profile picture.
And, when Justin was also able to make it to the delivery room, we were excited beyond belief. What an experience for the entire family. And how thankful we are now to be able to tell Everett and Marshal that their dad was with them! You can read more about her birth story HERE.
I must admit, going through these pictures on my computer gave me a chance to realize again just how difficult of a process this was. Mostly for Justin, who is a fighter from top to bottom. But, then for Jennifer. I can’t believe how my little girl stepped up and did what she needed to do. To me, nothing showed what she had gone through and the process of this event more than this picture.
With the babies home Justin was able to routinely help with them. This picture of “all the Hanks men” is a great memory. Justin was strong enough to help, and improving a bit.
In the process of recovery and hopefully healing we found out that it is crucial to have ongoing goals. With the babies born Justin had two more meaningful goals. He wanted to start getting in Yvonne and David’s hot tub, and he wanted to go in their backyard and enjoy the view. He was getting stronger and stronger and got to the point where he could go out without oxygen. We were gaining optimism at almost every turn. You can imagine what a fun day it was to see this!
During this process Linda (Jennifer’s mom) had moved to Utah to be with Jennifer in February. She had not even packed a bag. As a result, Linda had moved to Provo in February and been living with Justin and Jennifer full time. I look at her and can’t imagine how she did it either. Truly, she was an angel with courage and valor. In 35 years of marriage I am sad to admit that I had no idea how strong she was. I thought I did…but I didn’t. I was so impressed by her resilience at ever turn.
Additionally, Mitch and Lynette (Justin’s parents) had sold their home in Colorado and moved to Utah just to be close and supportive. As I look now at how this went, seems to me that this process was exactly how it should go. A young couple having a trial no one should ever have to go through, doing the right thing to have the courage to bring babies into the world, and having support from family at every turn. In retrospect, the plan worked perfectly.
As Justin started getting a bit better and when Justin’s parents were more settled in Utah Linda and I started to think about moving back to Minnesota. Things seemed to be getting a bit better.
You can read PART 3 HERE
You can read more about Jennifer’s story HERE.