EXETER, R.I. -- Jessica Marfeo, 19, might have had a spare minute since she was declared cancer-free at age 13, but it's hard to imagine when.
The result: Saturday night she was crowned Miss Rhode Island for the Miss America organization. She will compete in September at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.
Marfeo grew up in Exeter and lives there with her parents, Mary and Michael, and brother, Joseph, 14, and their two dogs. She attended The Prout School in South Kings-town and is attending the University of Rhode Island, where she'll be a junior in the fall. She is triple-majoring in biology, elementary education and premedical physician assistant.
Her interest in medicine and health started as a young child. Her brother, Michael, suffered from a brain tumor that took his life when he was 2. A year later, she was diagnosed with a cancer of the nerve tissue behind one lung at the age of 5.
"Even when I was with Michael," she said by phone Monday, "they taught me how to take his blood pressure."
She now volunteers in the oncology unit at Hasbro Children's Hospital. "I wanted to be there for other patients," she said.
She plans to earn two master's degrees, one in physician-assistant studies and the other in public health, for her ultimate goal of becoming director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Her win in the Miss Rhode Island pageant will help her toward those goals: She won $88,000 in scholarships, including full tuition toward master's degrees at Salve Regina and Bryant universities.
Marfeo, who succeeds Kelsey Fournier, the 2012 Miss Rhode Island, described the significance of the four-pointed crown.
Each point focuses on one of the organization's goals: scholarship, success, service and style.
With scholarship and success evident, Marfeo explained that for service, each candidate represents a cause or a charity. Marfeo has one of her own devising, called BFF, or Be Friends First.
The educational program is designed for schools to use from kindergarten through high school, Marfeo said. In kindergarten through fourth grade, students learn about treating others as they'd like to be treated, about what makes a good friend and a little about conflict resolution.
In middle school, she said, students learn about peer pressure, bullying and the beginnings of romantic relationships.
In high school, girls learn from the WOWW, or We're Offering Women Wisdom, and boys get the BRO, or Boys Reaching Out, program for upperclassmen to mentor underclassmen. Both programs emphasize respect and communication as ways to prevent unhealthy relationships from forming, Marfeo said.
This summer, she'll promote her program, prepare her vocal selection from a musical and work with her trainer and nutritionist.
Her strategy is to eat small, healthy meals every two to three hours "to keep the metabolism up," and to drink water, lots of water.
As for style, she said she found her dress at a trunk show in Connecticut. "I fell in love with it the moment I put it on. I knew it was the dress."