Elizabeth De Leon passed away shortly after watching her daughter graduate from high school

Just a day after watching her daughter graduate from high school from her hospital bed, a 51-year-old mother from New York passed away after a years-long batter with cancer.

Just weeks before Cassidy De Leon prepared to graduate from Washingtonville High School, her mother, Elizabeth, was admitted to Vassar Brothers Medical Center after experiencing complications from stage IV colon cancer that spread to other parts of her body.

“It wasn’t until last week where things took a turn for the worst,” Cassidy’s brother, Richard Pagan, 33, tells PEOPLE of the moment his mother was rushed to the emergency room at the end of May. “The doctors found out that the cancer had taken over her entire liver. They said she only had a few days to live.”

The news was devastating to the family. While they knew their mother’s cancer was terminal, they thought they had more time to spend with her.

“That was one of the hardest pills to swallow,” Pagan recalls. “Thinking my mom had a few years to live to hearing that she had a few days. How can you comprehend all of that?”

Richard and Cassidy
| Credit: Richard Pagan

With Elizabeth’s condition worsening, Pagan quickly contacted Washingtonville High School principal, Brian Connolly, to see if he would be willing present Cassidy’s high school diploma from Elizabeth’s hospital room ahead of her June 21 graduation date. With Connolly on board, Pagan quickly informed family members of his plan.

“I told my mom to hold on just a little bit longer,” Pagan, a father of two, says. “I told her I had one more surprise.”

On May 28, Pagan gathered friends and family in his mother’s room at Vassar Brothers Medical Center to have an intimate high school graduation ceremony for Cassidy, the 18-year-old senior. While Elizabeth had been mostly unresponsive in the days leading up to the ceremony, when she saw Cassidy dressed her cap and gown, she was nothing but smiles.

“During the ceremony, she actually moved her head and cracked a little smile when she saw Cassidy,” Pagan says. “She did not close her eyes after that, and though she couldn’t really talk, we knew she was trying to tell Cassidy that she was proud of her.”

The next morning, just hours after her wish was fulfilled thanks to her loving children, Elizabeth passed away.

Elizabeth De Leon
| Credit: Richard Pagan

The family has created a GoFundMe page to help out with expenses, and they have raised more than $9,000 of their $20,000 goal. A funeral for Elizabeth—who was a long time nurse who still worked even while chemotherapy often left her too exhausted to stand—was held at St. Mary’s Church in Washingtonville on Monday.

On the donation page, Cassidy called her mom her closest friend, and expressed happiness that she was able to have her mom present during the special moment.

“She is my best friend, my heart, and my world,” Cassidy wrote. “She was granted her last wish, which was to see me graduate.”

Pagan hopes that people who come across her story remember to tell their mothers how much they love them, before the time comes where they no longer can.

“Whatever issues you may have with your mom, or if you have a great relationship, go hug her and tell her you love her. You only have one mom, and the bond between a mom and child, there’s no stronger bond than that.”