RCBC grad overcomes cancer, earns paramedic award
Monday, May 20, 2024

A few semesters into her Paramedic Science education at Rowan College at Burlington County, Jessica Bennett, 25, faced an unimaginable situation. After experiencing debilitating symptoms resulting from a lump in her neck, doctors told her that the lump, a mass on her salivary gland and not a swollen lymph node as she believed, possessed atypical cells - ones that were most likely cancerous. Immediately, uncertainty loomed over the rest of her college career. But thanks to her dedicated spirit, Bennett knew that continuing her studies was what she wanted to do.

“I just didn’t want to lose the progress that I had already made,” Bennett said. “I just don’t want to give up my life. I know a lot of people would have stopped going, and I was like, ‘I can’t. I literally will lose myself.’”

After receiving surgery in December of 2022, she took some time to relax during winter break but was right back in class in January. Bennett was candid about her struggles post-surgery. The lump was located directly under her ear, and its extraction led to hearing loss in that ear. What were simple classroom exercises before, like working with feedback mannequins, became difficult. And five days a week, right after class, she went from campus to the hospital to receive radiation treatment. Despite it all, she had the help of her professors and other staff at RCBC by her side to alleviate any complications.

“They’ve been nothing but extremely supportive,” Bennett said.

The decision to return ultimately proved fruitful. Bennett was personally awarded the Director’s Award by RCBC President Dr. Michael A. Cioce in front of her family, professors, and peers, tangibly displaying an unwavering commitment to her education.

“It was awesome, in front of my family and friends and the whole nine yards to receive that award. It’s even better that, you know, the president was there. I was able to talk to him afterward. So it was really cool. It was a really great experience.”

The culmination of her efforts took place last Thursday with commencement. After everything she experienced, she took particular pride in crossing the stage, receiving her diploma, and switching her tassel from right to left. 

She has three words to describe her feelings: “Accomplished. Supported. Grateful.”

Having been in remission since March of 2023, Bennett’s next steps regarding her health include regular scans every three months. As she maneuvers that, she will tackle exams. Then she’ll look around at hospitals in the area, namely Virtua, where she has already applied, and start her career. 

But while she waits for the first day on the job, Bennett’s made other necessary plans after 27 months of schooling, with hospital visits scattered in between: “I’m taking a giant vacation.”