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Johns Hopkins Bayview News - Back on the Mound

Spring 2015

Back on the Mound

By: Martin Fisher
Date: June 1, 2015

Quick intervention helps young baseball hopeful return to the team after cancer


Joseph Benitez on the pitcher's mound
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Joseph Benitez pitching for his Old Dominion University baseball team.

Joseph Benitez was used to attention—the 19-year-old pitcher at Old Dominion University had already drawn the eye of multiple professional baseball teams. But while his parents were visiting him on his Norfolk, Virginia, campus last fall, Benitez’s mother spotted an unusual lump on his neck that had gone unnoticed by everyone else. He was diagnosed with a swollen lymph node at an urgent care facility, but to be safe, his mother turned to head and neck experts at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center for a second opinion. A precautionary CT scan was performed.

The scan seemed to show a benign cyst, or fluid-filled growth. Even so, the growth was large enough that the medical team recommended it be removed. A routine biopsy discovered cancer in the removed tissue, and things started moving quickly. “A week and a half later I went into surgery,” says Benitez.

Although the medical team at Johns Hopkins Bayview didn’t suspect Benitez had a thyroid problem, the tumor’s location required the complete removal of his thyroid, as well as lymph nodes in the area. Complicating matters, the surgery involved working around a nerve that controls the shoulder, so they needed to be careful to avoid the nerve to allow him to continue pitching. After the surgery, Benitez was prescribed a treatment known as radioiodine ablation, a pill form of radiation treatment that killed the remaining potentially cancerous thyroid cells while leaving the surrounding tissue unharmed.

In late September, Benitez was fully cleared—no cancerous cells were detected—and by October, he was back with his team.

Benitez is focused on the present. “I’ve been living life a little differently,” he says. Returning to the field was a big moment. “My whole team stopped and clapped while I was doing my warm-up pitches."

To make an appointment with the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins Bayview, call 443-997-6467 or visit hopkinsmedicine.org/oto/thyroid.