‘Keep going’: VSU student fulfills education promise to father after battling cancer

Elianna Benavidez was diagnosed with thyroid cancer less than a year after her father passed away from cancer in 2016
Benavidez will be one of the nearly 600 students to graduate from Virginia State University on Saturday.
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 4:37 PM EDT
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ETTRICK, Va. (WWBT) - Inside Virginia State University’s Multi-Purpose Center, Elianna Benavidez reflects on her emotions as she prepares to graduate with honors and receive her degree on Saturday.

“Excitement, a little nervous, a little sad,” said Benavidez before the commencement rehearsal on Friday. “A huge sense of pride and just being able to say I did it.”

For Benavidez, this moment fulfills a promise she made to her father, who was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and passed away in 2016.

Elianna Benavidez
Elianna Benavidez(Source;WWBT | WWBT)

“He always engraved in us that education was super important,” Benavidez said. “As a young kid, I was like no, I want to work, I want to be part of the family business, do all that and he always pushes, no keep going.”

With those words, Benavidez followed through with her father’s wish and enrolled in VSU in 2017. While in school for the semester, Benavidez’s trip to the doctor for a cold took an unexpected turn.

“He saw something on my throat and was like asking a couple of questions of how long has that been there,” said Benavidez. “I had never really noticed it, and it didn’t bother me and seemed very concerned.”

After a visit to a specialist and tests, Benavidez was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

“During that process, it was a little challenging just because my dad had just passed away from cancer, and I didn’t want to tell my family,” she said. “When I finally told them, they were very strong.”

With her family by her side, Benavidez started her cancer treatment.

Elianna Benavidez goes through treatment for cancer.
Elianna Benavidez goes through treatment for cancer.(Source; Elianna Benavidez | Elianna Benavidez)

“I had to do a full surgery to remove my whole thyroid, and then from there, they put me on a salt-free diet for about a month to do the radiation,” she said.

In the next year, Benavidez recovered and started thinking about her next steps, including the words her father told her.

“There’s something that stuck in me that I was like, I have to do that, I have to go back and finish my degree,” said Benavidez.

Benavidez returned to school with support from her professors and classmates.

“From the professors to management to everyone, they were always keeping up with me, seeing what I needed,” she said.

As Benavidez prepares to graduate from VSU on Saturday, she hopes to inspire others to keep going, just like her father told her.

“Take day by day. If you think too far ahead, it gets a little bit overwhelming, but you got to keep going,” Benavidez said. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

After graduation, Benavidez will continue her work to elevate the family business and hopes at some point in the future to enter the corporate field.

Benavidez will be one of the nearly 600 students to get their degrees during Virginia State University’s ceremony on Saturday at 8:30 a.m.