Wherever There's Joy, There's Asaph Schwapp

"Someone had asked me to go in their place at the last minute," Amanda said. "I saw him from across the gym. I noticed him looking at me. He had his jersey on and those enormous biceps. But then I noticed his eyes, amazing eyes, so soulful. Before he came over I thought he's going to be really obnoxious. But then he started talking, he was so interesting, showed such a genuine interest, was so well spoken.

"He asked me for my phone number. I never give my phone number out."

Amanda gave Asaph her phone number.

They would fall in love.

She talked about introducing a friend of hers to Asaph. When she did, she was stunned that they hugged. Her friend explained that when he went to Weaver some of the kids made fun of him, bullied him. Asaph didn't even know him, but went over, told them to knock it off. That was the end of the bullying.

"I knew I picked the right guy," she said. "He had a heart of gold."

In January 2012, they both thought they had the flu. Amanda got better. Asaph didn't. In February, he started losing weight quickly. He was having terrible night sweats, drenching the sheets, soaking into the mattress. Amanda would change the sheets in the middle of the night. His pulse was too fast. He grew too tired. This wasn't the flu. The doctor thought it was bronchitis and gave him an inhaler. The symptoms only got worse.

Asaph was stubborn. Early in March, he and Amanda were supposed to go out to dinner with her family. She told him they're not going if he didn't go back to the doctor. They went together. He was nervous, Amanda said.

The blood work showed that his liver function was off. He got a CAT scan and ultrasound and they showed that his liver and spleen were very enlarged. His doctor called.

"They thought it was cancer," she said. "They thought it was lymphoma."

Amanda broke down crying.

"I'm going to be OK," Asaph said. "I'm going to get through this."

That was on a Friday. They had an excruciating wait over the weekend for definitive results. It would be as bad as they feared. Within a month, chemo started.

"Last year, we were all so hopeful," Loretta King said.

Through the ups and down, he kept a brave, positive face for everyone. Even when he called Schwapp after he had gone back into St. Francis Hospital two weeks ago, Fleeting said, Asaph said, "I'll be OK. Everything's good."

Amanda is teaching children with autism while working toward her master's degree in social work at Simmons College in Boston. She had been pushing Asaph for a year to speak with a social worker and she set it up while he was at the hospital for a transfusion.

"Afterward when he talked about it, he was really upset about one question." Amanda said. "He was asked if the doctor told him he was going to die in a week, what would he do with his last week. He told her, 'I would spend it with friends and family.' And then he turned to me and said, 'But I wouldn't believe the doctor.'

"He was such an incredible fighter. We talked about how he had been fighting all his life. He fought for everything he had. That was his mind-set battling cancer."

And so Asaph Schwapp battled cancer with every inch of his being. Alvin, mobilized as a member of the Army Reserve, was called back from Fort Dix. Andrew, who had graduated from Texas A&M-Commerce and found an apartment with Asaph a few months ago, was already here. And when Asaph could fight no more, word went out Asaph would be taken off life support.

That's when something as wonderful as it was heartbreaking happened. In his final hours, he would be surrounded by all those friends and family. They descended on St. Francis. When he passed, 20 of them surrounded Asaph in his hospital room.