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AHA Twins Take Center Stage During Cancer Battle

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(credit: CBS) Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield
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RICHFIELD, Minn. (WCCO) – Academy of Holy Angels students will take the stage this weekend to perform the musical “Hairspray.” It’s a play that’s about people who define beauty in a less conventional way.

Derek Schwartz is playing the mother of the show’s main character. And his twin brother, Joey, plays his husband.

The Schwartz brothers are fraternal twins. Derek weighs about a hundred pounds more than Joey.

“I was always bigger. I ate all the nutrients in the womb,” Derek said.

“Hairspray” director Gregg Sawyer made the call to make the brothers an on-stage couple.

“When I ended up casting twin brothers in this role, I thought ‘Well, on one hand they do know each other very well,'” Sawyer said.

Sawyer said Joey made him promise he would not have to kiss his brother.

“We’re like an old married couple anyway, like we bicker at each other,” Joey said.

But the scene used to be different. The brothers couldn’t be in plays together or even school together. There was a time it seemed the curtain may close for good.

“There was just little tiny nodules all over my lungs which is completely inoperable,” Joey said.

During freshman year they got the news that even though they were born together, they would likely die decades apart.

“The doctors couldn’t offer hope to us, so I had to mentally start preparing to go at life without my brother,” Derek said.

Joey had cancer, midline carcinoma, which is rare and vicious. But he also had a fraternal distraction.

“I had him with me to help me forget about it and not mention it, and play video games with me and play catch with me. Just talk to me and not mention cancer,” Joey said.

In turn, Derek found a form of diversion via theater.

“I thought it would be a really good escape for me to forget a little about my life while my brother was doing chemo,” Derek said.

Soon after, the brothers who share a birthday began to share the spotlight. But it was off stage that their parents delivered the most important line of their lives.

“They told me it was all gone,” Derek said. “That is the happiest moment of my life.”

It may seem like an odd pairing, but they are getting rave reviews.

“They’re brothers and then you layer in their history, and it’s been an easy, easy direct with those two,” Sawyer said.

And the Schwartz brothers are showing the world that you don’t need a stage to a play the role of a lifetime.

“If I’m ever going through something hard, I will always have him who’s been through something a lot harder than what I’ve been through,” Derek said. “He will always be my go to.”

The play continues through the end of the month at the Academy of Holy Angels. After the curtain call, the boys will get ready for graduation.

Next fall – for the first time in their lives – they won’t be roommates, but their colleges will only be about 15 minutes apart.

For ticket information to see the play in person, click here.

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