The day before Fernando Guzman died, he had some friends over. He turned on the TV and found what he wanted to watch, WWE. And despite the pain he was feeling from the cancer inside him, he began to dance.
“He tried to make everything into a joke, even when he was in the worst pain of his life,” said Carly Comer, his girlfriend.
The 2017 Coosa High graduate died at his home Sunday afternoon at the age of 18, following an almost seven-year battle with bone cancer.
“I feel like it was almost pre-planned,” Comer said. “It gave us a sense of peace knowing he went the way he wanted to, being surrounded by everybody that he loved.”
Until his last breath, Guzman carried himself with the strength and courage that made an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of all he met, wearing a smile along the way, said Charman Putnam, who was one of four “school mamas” he had at Coosa High.
“He lived his life to the fullest and enjoyed every minute, down to his last day,” she said. “He left a mark on my heart that will never be forgotten.”
The other school mamas from his Coosa family were Lila Culberson, Sherry Agan and Beth Wade. They helped him get on track for graduation, picked out ties for him to wear at award ceremonies and were frequently on the receiving end of his stubborn ways and mischievous humor, they said.
“He was an amazing young man and taught everyone that met him so much about enjoying every moment and working to overcome anything that gets in your way,” Agan said.
For Guzman, there were no viable excuses to not achieving one’s goals, Wade said.
“He was a Coosa Eagle,” she said. “I think he flew above his circumstances.”
Culberson said it would seemingly have been easy for Guzman to slip into depression and self-pity, but that just wasn’t who he was.
“He just had a tremendous spirit,” she said. “There was nothing that was too difficult; he was going to find a way to do it.”
Comer recalled Guzman often saying, “If I can smile with what I'm going through, you can smile with what you’re going through.”
After being told in February 2016 that he had cancer for the fifth time, Guzman decided to not pursue treatment. He was told he had three to six months to live. But he beat those odds.
“He almost had me believing that he was going to live forever,” said Chris Parker, who taught Guzman in eighth grade. “When faced with giving up or moving on, it was in his nature to keep moving forward.”
For graduation, Guzman, the first of his family to graduate, had his mind set on walking across the stage — he had his left leg amputated due to his disease. And when he came up the ramp at the Forum River Center, with Comer by his side, that’s exactly what he did.
“There’s never anything regular about him,” said Parker, adding that when talking with Guzman, it wasn’t like talking with anyone else.
Guzman, in his patented style, loved to make people laugh.
“He was really mean as a snake in his own little way,” Putnam laughed. “He just tried to get under your skin.”
Whether it was by calling administrators and staff by their first names, telling Culberson he could do her job better than she could or doing doughnuts on his scooter in the high school atrium, examples abound for all he did to get people to crack a smile.
“I'll call you part Mexican from now on,” Agan remembered Guzman telling her, following a teasing pause, after he tried her first tres leches cake on his birthday, which his school mamas always threw a celebration for.
For all the challenges Guzman faced in his short life, he always was more concerned with what others were dealing with. People came to him for help or advice. They looked up to him, and fed off his determination.
“We are the ones who are hurting and he’s the one being strong for us,” Parker said. “That’s the kind of kid he was.”
Parker said over the last week he’s been faced with a strange notion, which just may speak to the enduring legacy Guzman leaves behind.
“His passing is sad but it’s motivational,” he said. “I can't explain it. I’ve never experienced something like it.”
A memorial service will be held at West Rome Baptist Church, 914 Shorter Ave., today, starting at 4 p.m. Those attending are asked to wear red and black, for Guzman’s love of the Atlanta Falcons and the Georgia Bulldogs.
The annual soccer match between students and faculty known as the Fernando Cup, a fundraiser for Guzman’s scholarship fund, will be held once again this year, and for as many years as it possibly can.
“That’s our chance to share his story,” Parker said.