Veteran Gets Her Dream Wedding Before Life-Threatening Brain Tumor Surgery: 'It Was Perfect' (Exclusive)

Strangers banded together to help Jennifer Cooper and her husband create memories while there was still time

<p>Brandi-Lee Photography</p> (L-R) Jennifer and Devin Cooper

Brandi-Lee Photography

(L-R) Jennifer and Devin Cooper

Jennifer Cooper says she saw a bright light and heard a voice telling her not to die during her first brain tumor surgery in 2015. She says the voice told her to stay alive for her children, but also because had not met her true love yet. "Follow the butterflies," the voice said, she recalls.

Months later, on her first date with Devin Cooper, he was wearing a butterfly bracelet. When the couple moved in together, their home in Madisonville, Tenn., had butterfly wallpaper, light switches and curtains. They even have matching butterfly tattoos.

“I always knew I had a soulmate,” Jennifer, 44, tells PEOPLE. “I just knew.”

With a second life-threatening surgery looming — which, if successful, will result in the loss of her vision — strangers banded together to give the couple their dream wedding and help them create memories while there was still time.

“We have a very strong belief that God can do miracles,” she adds. “We’ve got a lot of faith.”

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<p>Brandi-Lee Photography</p> (L-R) Devin Cooper and Jennifer Cooper

Brandi-Lee Photography

(L-R) Devin Cooper and Jennifer Cooper

Jennifer enlisted in the Army in 2000 after seeing the movie G.I. Jane and thinking, “I can do that.”

“They called me G.I. Jen,” she says. “I was doing one-armed push-ups”

Stationed in Kosovo, she served as a combat flight medic. But soon after, she got sick, experiencing rashes, headaches, and nausea. At the time, she was pregnant and thought that was the cause of her symptoms. But in 2013, doctors found the first brain tumor.

When it was surgically removed in 2015, she had a stroke during the operation that left her with only half her vision in both eyes.

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Shortly after the surgery, the single mom was scrolling through Facebook when she came across one of Devin's posts. As fate would have it, he had previously dated one of her friends and showed up for Jennifer as a "person you might know."

After she commented on his post, they started chatting online and from there, one thing just led to another.

“When we first saw each other, it was like that movie Twilight, where their eyes meet and they see all these flashes — it was just like that,” Jennifer says.

“Seeing her the first time it was like, ‘She’s mine. I love her, that’s who I was meant to be with,' " adds Devin, a 39-year-old security guard. “It’s like God took the woman out of my mind and gave me exactly what I wanted.”

They started dating on Jan. 6, 2016 — and just over a month later, he proposed on Valentine's Day.

“Even though, in my sickness and my situation, knowing it wouldn’t be forever with us, or it could not be forever — he still took the plunge,” Jennifer says.

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The couple couldn’t afford their dream wedding at the time, but a preacher who owned a car lot offered to marry them for free — if they wed at his business on Aug. 18, 2016. So they did. But still, it wasn't the ceremony they envisioned for themselves, and they didn't even have a reception afterwards.

But last fall, Devin’s mother reached out to veteran advocate Willie Franklin, to ask if he knew anyone who could help plan a wedding for her son and his bride. Coincidentally, a wedding event planner called Franklin asking if there was a deserving veteran who might want a free wedding at a new venue she was promoting.

“This wedding had been her dream and a big deal for her,” says Kristin Vittorini, 41-year-old event planner with Blushing Gypsy Events in Cosby, Tenn. “It was special. You could tell they really loved each other.”

<p>Brandi-Lee Photography</p> (L-R) Jennifer and Devin Cooper

Brandi-Lee Photography

(L-R) Jennifer and Devin Cooper

The ceremony was held Monday, Aug. 1 at Canopy Ridge, a glamping retreat in Sevierville.

Vittorini rallied vendors to donate goods and services — and donated her own money — and designed a “classy boho” dream wedding valued at nearly $30,000.

“It was perfect,” Jennifer says. “I didn’t think anybody cared like that. It was such a beautiful thing.”

No matter what happens, the day will also be a forever memory for her five children, two with her first husband, Angelo, 21, Americus, 18, and three kids she and Devin share together: Aubriella, 10, Zeriah, 5, and Zander 4.

“I want to be an example for my children to get married and to persevere through hard times to do good things,” says the bride, whose eldest daughter walked her down the aisle.

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At the time of the wedding, Jennifer’s surgery was scheduled for September, but she decided to wait so she could spend more time with her husband and kids.

“If I have the surgery, and it’s successful, I lose my sight,” she says. “On the other side of the coin, I don’t make it through the surgery. There’s just no good outcome…. They’re both bad.”

<p>Brandi-Lee Photography</p> Jennifer and Devin Cooper's wedding

Brandi-Lee Photography

Jennifer and Devin Cooper's wedding

Jennifer says she has good days and bad days, but right now, the challenging days outweigh the easy ones. Still, most of the time, she says she tries to get up "because it’s just not in me to give up."

Her next doctor’s appointment to examine the tumor on April 18. “We’re praying it’s just going to be gone,” she says. “We’re hoping for the best.”

“Love everybody around you and love them as much as you can,” adds the mom. “That’s what’s most important.”

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