After battling colon cancer for three years, Elizabeth De Leon, a 51-year-old single mom from New York, was told that she didn't have much longer to live. Despite being completely devastated by his mom's diagnosis, 33-year-old Richard Pagan was determined to have his mom see his 18-year-old sister, Cassidy De Leon, graduate — and so he brought the ceremony to her in the hospital nearly a month early.
"I actually was the one who came up with the idea," Richard told POPSUGAR. "A couple days before, we had celebrated my son's birthday and she was happy about that. But to tell you the truth, she was in a lot of pain. And two days later, she's back in the hospital."
Once Elizabeth was admitted to Vassar Brothers Medical Center, things took a turn for the worst almost immediately, and Elizabeth was told she that her stage 4 colon cancer had spread to her liver.
"I left work to go to the hospital and they had already run all these tests on her," explained Richard. "My uncle gave it to me straight and said that she didn't have much time to live. That came as a shock to me and I was devastated. She was pretty much sedated because they needed to give her medicine to make her feel comfortable because the cancer had spread to her entire liver."
Richard knew he didn't have a second to waste and began putting his plan into action. He started by reaching out to Brian Connolly, the principal of Washingtonville High School in New York, for help.
"We could tell that she was extremely happy and extremely proud."
"After collecting myself, I realized the one thing she was looking forward to was seeing my sister graduate. I ran it by my family and I tried to get ahold of her high school principal to see if we could make this happen. The doctors had only given her a few days to live, so I knew I needed to try to get this done as quickly as possible."
From there, he enlisted the help of his mom's friends in securing a cap and gown for Cassidy. "One of my mom's friends lent us a cap and gown to use and later that night, I heard back from Brian and we exchanged numbers."
Eventually, Brian was able to get Cassidy's diploma from the school and the family had everything they needed to make the ceremony happen. Brian even offered to give Cassidy her diploma at the hospital to make everything official.
The morning of Cassidy's ceremony, Richard noticed his mom was having trouble responding — but as soon as the music started playing, she started to perk up.
"She was still alive but she couldn't open her eyes for more than two seconds. But when it was time for the ceremony, my mom actually moved her head and cracked a little smile and her eyes were open the whole time. We could tell that she was extremely happy and extremely proud."
Elizabeth tragically passed away the following morning. And although Cassidy and Richard face a long road of grief, there's a sliver of hope on the horizon: Cassidy will join joining her brother at SUNY Orange in the Fall and is planning to study art and history.
Interested in helping Richard and Cassidy offset some of their mom's medical bills? Make a contribution to the family's GoFundMe page.