ODU pitcher faces ultimate challenge off the mound

Posted at 6:33 PM, Nov 26, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-26 18:33:37-05

Norfolk, Va. - A laid-back kid off the field and a tough competitor on the field, 19-year old pitcher for the ODU Monarchs, Joey Benitez headed to the doctor with a strange ball-like lump in his throat. Three to four days later, a phone call from his doctor changed his life.

“My doctor told me that it was in fact cancer, and it was from my thyroid,” says Benitez.

Family, friends and teammates were shocked and devastated by the news.

“I was like wow, you know? It's one of my best friends. It's like my brother. I was so upset about it. I didn't want to cry on the phone about it, but as soon as I hung up, I was in tears,” says Benitez’s friend.

Benitez however maintained an unwavering optimism.

“He's such a happy guy - he had such a positive outlook from the first time I talked to him. He was already sitting there focusing on getting back to school as soon as possible, wanting to get back on the mound as soon as possible - we just kept telling him just get healthy first, and that'll take care of itself.”

Benitez was checked out by three doctors, who told him the lump as a cyst or swollen lymph node- it was actually his pediatrician back home in Maryland, who correctly diagnosed him.

“In a way, saved my life because the doctor said if this wasn't caught at a good time, like how we did catch it, we'd be having a pretty different conversation in about a year or two,” says Benitez.

We asked doctors at EVMS how the cancer could have been missed not one two but three times.

After surgery, Benitez underwent radioactive iodine (rai) treatment. - a pill that absorbs and attempts to kill any remaining thyroid cancer cells. Then he had to wait to see if the cancer was gone. On September 22 he got his answer.

“About 9 a.m., I was in my chemistry class, and I got a phone call from my doctor, and I looked down and was like, ‘Oh man I gotta take this.’ So I walked out, and she was like great news, the testing came back on your thyroid and your lymph nodes, and everything is clear, and you are officially cancer free. And I was like wow, what a great feeling, I was extremely happy.

He tweeted the news to his friends and teammates.

“When I took the mound about a month ago for the first time on our fall intersquads, everyone kind of stopped and clapped a little bit, and that was such a great feeling right there alone,” says Benitez.