In the first chaotic hours after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as motorists were being re-routed away from the Pentagon, Arlington Detective Jim Page threw on his bright orange vest and hit the streets to help out. By the time he got to the massive backup on Columbia Pike, a citizen was already in the thick of it, trying to direct traffic on his own.
Over the next few hours, the cop and the citizen worked side by side, developing a kind of rhythm as they went. About halfway into it, the cop turned and said, "I'm Jim." The citizen nodded. "I'm Tony." Page took off his vest that said "POLICE," turned it inside out and told Tony to put it on for his protection.
"He was right out there helping me; he stayed there all day," said Page, who later thanked Tony with some pizza. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be directing traffic with a citizen."
But Page, his fellow officers say, is a community cop at heart. He gets to know the people he serves and works alongside them to solve problems, doing whatever it takes to get the job done. He does it in his own soft-spoken way.
"Instantly you take to him," said Charlie Majdi, who owns the One, Two, Kangaroo! toy store in the Village at Shirlington, where Page has worked for more than a decade as an off-duty officer. "He's one of those guys who goes out of his way to do the little things. He comes in and checks on you because he really, really does care."
It is the community, now, that is reaching out to help the 41-year-old officer. On Sept. 25, his son's 12th birthday, doctors diagnosed colon cancer in Page. An operation several weeks later to remove the cancer, and part of his colon, determined that it had spread to some of his lymph nodes.
Sgt. Ken Dennis, who works with Page in Shirlington, decided to organize a dinner and silent auction at Guapo's restaurant to raise money for Page and his family. The community stepped up to the plate. Merchants donated dinners and kegs of beer. Some donated their frequent flier miles for the auction.
"They were pounding down my door, leaving checks on my desk," Dennis said. "Jim's just a very likable guy. He has a way of communicating with people without being confrontational."
The county fire department donated a hat that was worn by a rescue worker at the Pentagon. It went for more than $300. And the wife of the pilot of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, turned to American Airlines, which donated two round-trip tickets for Page's personal use, to help him recuperate.
Ted Mann, who has an accounting practice in Shirlington and worked closely with Page when he started the county's Crime Solvers Program, says the community is simply grateful for all Page has done for them.
"I could spend all day with him in a foxhole and feel like I had my best day ever," said Mann, 51. "He's a good listener. He has both feet on the ground. He's a very down-to-earth individual who would volunteer to carry your water for you."
Page will never forget July 2, the day he got his first clue that something was terribly wrong.
He had just dropped off his son, Doug, and a friend at a community pool and was heading over to use a computer at the local library. He wanted to respond to the flood of e-mails he was receiving from people eager for Virginia's new "Fight Terrorism" license plates -- an idea Page had come up with.
That's when the pain hit his stomach area -- hard. "I've never felt that kind of pain before," he said.
He wasn't sure he could make it, but somehow he got the kids back home again and, eventually, the pain went away. So did his resolve to make a doctor's appointment. Still, he knew something wasn't quite right and about a month after experiencing the sharp pain, he decided he better get it checked out.
Despite his relatively young age, his doctor recommended a colonoscopy, just to be on the safe side.
The test didn't hurt at all, Page said. The results, however, came as a blow. "I was thinking, 'I'm going to die,' " he recalled.
But Page was not down for long. The former Marine had something worth fighting for: his wife, Dawn, 39, and their two children, Doug, 12, and Lauren, 17. As much as he loves his police job, anyone who knows Page understands that his family always come first.
"It's all about his family," said Detective John Ritter. "He's a role model for how I hope I can be with my children."
Page asked a longtime family friend, a surgeon in the community where he grew up in Fairfax, if he would perform the operation to remove part of his colon. Page used to wash the surgeon's car as a kid.
"I was flattered that he'd come to me," said Elias Debbas, who performed the surgery Oct. 10 at Fort Washington Hospital and is optimistic about Page's prognosis and his outlook. "Positive attitudes always help out."
John L. Marshall, Page's oncologist at Georgetown's Lombardi Cancer Center, recently handed him some more good news. Tests showed that the cancer had not spread to other organs.
Marshall said Page has already greatly improved his odds by deciding to undergo a special regimen of chemotherapy. In addition to treatments at the hospital every two weeks for six months, Page is wearing a portable pump around his waist that slowly administers drugs.
Before long, and to the astonishment of many at the police department, Page was back on the job, screening applicants and doing background checks. For now, he has to work light duty, which means he can't put on the uniform that he is so proud to wear.
"The shock here was, of all the people it could happen to -- a guy with probably one of the best outlooks on life," said Capt. Kevin Reardon. "Here's a guy who always comes in with a smile, always leaves with a smile and is still smiling."
In the same way that NBC Today co-anchor Katie Couric used her husband Jay Monahan's death from colon cancer to help educate people about the disease, Page is also teaching his colleagues about the second-leading cancer killer in the United States. He shares a photograph of his colon with anyone who wants to see it, and the scar where a shunt was implanted in his chest for his chemotherapy treatments.
Police Chief Edward Flynn said Page is already a role model and predicts that more officers will get colonoscopies because of him. They realize that if it can happen to Page, one of the most fit officers on the force, it can happen to anybody, he said.
"Jim Page is Arlington's own profile in courage," Flynn said. "He has always had an inner peace. He somehow emits that he always knows who he is. For a police officer to have that is extremely important. So much of what we do is about seeing us as credible. He has this credibility. This is a man who has really found an inner peace and truly knows who he is."
Inside the Illusions salon in Shirlington, stylist Irma Wheeler puts down her blow-dryer and gives Page a warm hug. For the last 10 years, Page has given her advice on topics such as raising kids and what to do about suspicious people loitering outside her shop. Now, it's her turn.
"You going to lose your hair?" she asks. Page nods. "You know, the best thing to do is shave it," she tells him. "Call me; I'll come over and bring my clippers. I do it all the time."
The local dinner and auction raised more than $10,000, and the community is still finding ways to help Page, Dennis said. The police department has Page covered as far as sick leave and benefits, but Page used his after-hours job to send his kids to private school and to cover other expenses.
One resident sent Page a $1,000 check in thanks for all the help police gave her over the years when her husband, who suffered from Alzheimer's, would wander off.
"I don't believe I met Detective Page, but I could be wrong if he got around to North Arlington," the woman wrote. "Each and every officer -- and there were many -- showed us great kindness and understanding."
During his 15-year career, Page and his benefactress may have indeed crossed paths. He's worn many hats, spending five of those years as a motor cop. During that time, he caught one of the county's most notorious killers, Michael Charles Satcher, who was executed for the 1990 murder, rape and robbery of Anne Borghesani on a Rosslyn bike path.
Page, who has also served as a police spokesman and as a detective in the auto squad, looks forward to getting back to work full time -- and slipping into uniform again.
He is floored that so many people in the community and on the force showed up at a dinner for him. These days, he spends a lot of time comforting them so they don't feel sorry for him.
"What's the worst thing that can happen?" he asks them in his soft voice. "I'll just be in heaven first, and I'll be waiting to see you."