Photo: Sydney Madison Photography
Friday in Culpeper, Virginia, a few hundred Eastern View High seniors gathered at Cyclone Stadium, the school’s football field, for graduation. Like the thousands of other students across the area, graduation is a huge celebration– the culmination of many, many years of hard work (or just enough expert coasting to get by).
But there was one Eastern View senior who was walking with a heavy heart: 18-year-old Paige Hockman, who was graduating with honors. As she walked on stage and accepted her diploma, she blew a kiss into the sky. Most in the audience understood exactly what the gesture meant.
The top of her powder blue graduation cap had a message written in glitter glue: “Guys, I did it!!!” The names Reagan, mom, and dad accompanied the note with blue hearts. Blue was her father’s favorite color.
Best friends Reagan Flemming and Paige Hockman wearing Caps jerseys during last year’s homecoming week. (Photo via Paige Hockman)
Everyday at 8:19– morning or night– Paige would get a text, without fail. It was her next door neighbor and best friend Reagan Flemming.
“It was because of Nicky and Ovi,” Paige said to me this past weekend, explaining the tradition.
Paige and Reagan loved the Washington Capitals. Hockey was one of the hobbies they shared. The two would watch a lot of Caps games together at home. Sometimes they’d go to their local Greene Turtle and watch the Capitals from there.
Paige played hockey during her freshman and sophomore years. Reagan went to two of her games.
“Nicklas Backstrom is my favorite player because I love everything about the way he plays hockey,” Paige said. “He’s so good he doesn’t even have to look for players to make passes. He just knows people will be there.”
“Reagan loved Ovi,” Paige said. “He was ‘her boy.'”
Unfortunately, the best friends attended only one game at Verizon Center. Paige rattled the date immediately off the top of her head.
“It was March 28, 2011 and we lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout,” Paige said. It was one of the best nights of her life– minus the loss.
They would have gone to more, but Reagan was diagnosed with cancer three years before.
Hockey helped them forget about everything else.
“We both became fans together during a period of our life where we thought we weren’t strong enough to handle life,” Paige said. “Going home after school to watch the games gave me hope for the day and during the night I could forget all the problems that I didn’t want to face.
“The Caps’ red jersey was a symbol of courage and hope,” she continued. “During the 60 minutes we watched the Caps together, Reagan didn’t have terminal cancer and my mother wasn’t dying.”
Thinking Of Others Until The End
In 2008, Reagan was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma bone cancer. She was 11 years old. Ewing’s sarcoma is a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue. It’s the second most common pediatric malignant bone tumor.
According to The Culpeper Star-Exponent, Regan received cancer treatments through the UVA Medical Center in Charlottesville and at the Culpeper hospital until her 13th birthday. After that, she and her family decided to try an experimental drug trial through the National Institutes of Health.
Reagan wanted to participate because it could potentially help others in the future.
“She’s my hero because she fought for seven years and she made her own decision she was going to make the best of what happened to her and she was going to try to use whatever time she was given in a positive way,” Reagan’s mother Mary said to The Culpeper Star-Exponent’s Allison Brophy Champion. “She questioned a lot, ‘why me?’ and she came to the conclusion she would never know why her. She decided she would make the best of it and find ways to help others.”
Reagan and Paige did Relay For Life events, an organized, overnight community fundraising walk which benefits the American Cancer Society. Reagan used her own money to buy gifts for cancer stricken kids when she visited the hospital.
A member of the National Honor Society, an optimistic Reagan looked forward to graduating in June. Instead, around Christmas time her cancer returned. She would never return to school.
The cancer spread to Reagan’s knee, hip, shoulder, spine, head, and heart. After a courageous fight, the 18-year-old died on March 27, devastating her family and best friend.
“She was a fighter long before she got cancer,” Paige said. “She was the best friend anyone could ever have. And she would make me laugh until I cried.”
A Perfect Acknowledgment From Her Peers
Watching her best friend struggle made Paige’s senior year immensely difficult. That emotional burden was piled on top of the realities of a senior year student: harder classes and getting college applications out. But for Paige, she used Reagan’s optimism as a bedrock for her own personality. Paige always smiles, even though she has been through a lot herself.
When Paige was seven, her father died. Seven years later, her mother tragically died of breast cancer. That left Paige, her sister, and her younger brother as orphans. Without mom and dad, other family members did what they could. Paige initially moved in with her aunt. Now she and her brother lives with her stepdad. Her other sister lives with another aunt.
Describing her previous high school years as “rough,” her best friend’s struggle with cancer this year was just another impossibly hard hurdle to cross as a senior.
“I never expected her to die senior year,” Paige said. “I don’t know. I always knew she wouldn’t live forever with cancer, but senior year… I just never expected that. She went into remission for awhile, and I kind of never thought it would actually happen.
“It made my mentality completely flip,” Paige continued. “After Reagan died, my mental state went from trying to get into college to just trying to finish high school.”
It took awhile but Paige eventually began to move forward. She decided to work hard and try to get her advanced diploma in honor of Reagan. She had a lot of love and support waiting for her at school.
“My teachers and administrators at Eastern View were amazing,” Paige said. “My teachers let me turn in work whenever I could get it to them, and stayed after with me for extra help. I would get to school late sometimes and not be marked tardy. Friends just gave me constant support and I got closer with a few of them and went over to their homes more often.”
On April 25, Eastern View High School seniors voted Paige and her boyfriend Hunter as Prom King and Queen. It was an incredible gesture, like out of a movie. Paige never thought she would win. “There were way more popular people,” she said. But really, none more deserving.
Outside the community college where the big dance was held, it poured, which kind of figures. Paige’s grandmother told her granddaughter before she left that rain on a big day was good luck. She was right.
Photo: Sydney Madison Photography
On Friday, Eastern View High School teachers and administrators left an empty seat for Reagan. A yellow rose was left on the seat, the color of childhood cancer. A cap was even made for Reagan which had her nickname Reagz and a Capitals sticker on the top.
After everything Paige struggled through this year, she didn’t initially want to walk. Later though, she decided she would as a tribute for Reagan.
“If it was up to me I would just had the diploma mailed to me,” she said.
Paige took a pink heart balloon up with her on stage. When she got to the end of the stage, she blew a kiss to Reagan and her parents and released it into the sky. It represented that she was thinking of them and that she loved them. It also represented something else: her own strength.
Later Paige would take photos with Reagan’s parents, who attended the ceremony.
Like a Nicklas Backstrom no-look pass, Paige knows Reagan is always there, just out of the corner of her eye, ready to help her accomplish another goal. In the fall, Paige will attend Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, and study psychology.
She hopes to someday be a counselor and help children going through difficult times. She wants to help teach them to be strong– just like Reagan and, in her words, “the rest of the Capitals fan-base.”
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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