After finding out she was pregnant, Jennifer Anken learned her then-fiancé Dave had terminal brain cancer

By Joelle Goldstein
May 21, 2020 05:42 PM
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Jennifer and Dave Anken
| Credit: Jennifer Anken

A Florida woman in mourning is finding comfort in her newborn daughter, whom she welcomed during the coronavirus pandemic just months after the devastating loss of her husband to brain cancer.

The past eight months have been a whirlwind of the highest highs and the lowest lows for Jennifer Anken, who struggled to conceive for years before welcoming her first child, Davya Rose, on April 24.

Though she was incredibly happy to finally have a baby, Davya's birth was bittersweet, coming just over five months after Dave Anken was diagnosed with and died from brain cancer at age 47.

"There's always the question, 'Why would God do this to somebody?' But then again, I see this miracle I have in my hands," Jennifer, 39, tells PEOPLE. "I think my husband's story was written a long time ago and it was just a matter of getting all the pages in line with me, for us to have this little person."

Davya Rose
| Credit: jennifer anken

Welcoming that "little person" was a long time coming for the Paisley resident, who struggled to conceive for 15 years. Though she experienced one "success" while married to her first husband, Jennifer says she eventually suffered a miscarriage.

After the divorce, Jennifer started dating Dave in 2017, and both knew they wanted to have children. The couple tried for years, but again, it seemed a baby might not be in their future.

"We did some testing... and found out I was fine. Everything was working well with me but he, unfortunately, was not producing anything that was helping us out," she explains.

They continued trying, and in April 2019, the couple got engaged. Then, on Sept. 11, following an August vacation, doctors confirmed that Jennifer was pregnant — something she says left Dave in joyous disbelief.

"It was quite amazing," she recalls of the miraculous news, which came right before Dave's birthday. "We see the sonogram, but it was still surreal and exciting... Until the day he died, I really don't think he really thought I was pregnant. He was like, 'I won't believe it 'till I see her.'"

Jennifer and Dave Anken
| Credit: Jennifer Anken

In the weeks following their celebrations, Jennifer's joy turned to concern when she and Dave's coworkers started to notice that he seemed different.

"He was late to work, which was not something he did. He dozed off, he was very irritable, he'd get lost, it was a mess," she recalls. "In our house, it was pure hell, if you ask me. We were fighting all the time... it was almost like, looking back on it now, dealing with a 15-year-old personality-wise."

On Oct. 25, the pair finally decided to go to a local hospital, where Dave underwent an MRI and was told by doctors that they found something on the front of his brain. After being transferred to AdventHealth Orlando for additional tests, doctors confirmed the worst: Dave had terminal brain cancer.

"I don’t think it actually hit me for a couple of days," says Jennifer, noting that Dave was immediately admitted to the hospital and underwent surgery the following day — all the while keeping a calm demeanor.

"When we had our time alone, I would ask him, 'Do you know what's going on?' and he would say, 'Yeah, I have a tumor,'" she recalls. "He knew what was going on. I think he knew his body and knew the outcome, but he wouldn’t tell me."

Because the couple was only engaged at the time, Jennifer says she was unable to make any legal decisions for Dave — so the staff at a nearby rehab center, where Dave was transferred, organized for them to get married in a conference room on Nov. 5.

"For them to go above and beyond and have a spot for us to do a wedding was very, very nice," she says. "They got him out of the bed and got him sitting up and that was more than anybody could ever do for us that day."

Jennifer and Dave Anken
| Credit: Jennifer Anken

Just five days after they officially became husband and wife, Dave passed away.

"He was laying back [before a physical therapy session] and all of a sudden he started going into a seizure," Jennifer recalls. "The whole time, all I could do was tell him it was okay and that I loved him. I was the last person he saw."

Though she wanted to grieve, Jennifer says she was forced to stay strong and stable for their unborn child. But things became more stressful for her when the coronavirus began spreading around the U.S. just one month before her daughter arrived.

"My family was right there with me and kept me calm so that I didn't go crazy thinking about how I am going to do this on my own," she says. "I'm already going to have to raise this baby by myself, but now you're telling me I have to push her out on my own?"

"I was angry, like 'You've got to be kidding me,'" adds Jennifer. "Everything else is on my plate and now you're gonna throw this on there? I'm like, 'This a test of something!'"

RELATED VIDEO: Mom with Terminal Brain Cancer Writes Emotional Goodbye Letter to Her Sons: ‘Love Hard’

On April 24, little Davya — named after her father — made her first appearance in the world with Dave's cremated ashes on a nearby table. The whole time, Jennifer says she felt Dave's presence with her.

"He was there," she explains of the birth. "I had him there with little things I brought with me, and knowing that he was watching over us kept me calm."

After Dave died, Jennifer admits her "biggest concern" was one heartbreaking question: "What am I going to tell Davya when she's 10 and asks about dad?"

Her husband's former colleagues, the Florida Forest Service firefighters, said they'll be there to help.

"They told me, 'Don’t worry about that. We're all her uncles and will make sure she knows who her father is,'" says Jennifer, who adds she'll always remember her "loving, caring, silly and outgoing" husband's "open and big heart."

And though she's only a month old, Davya is already reminding her mother of Dave, from the way she looks to her funny sleeping positions.

"I'm sure she'll have a personality like him too," says Jennifer. "I just have a feeling."