Alex Lizotte, diagnosed at 20

2011: It was midnight and two nights before the big Harvard race on the Charles River in Boston. I row crew for the US Naval Academy and I had just got over my pre-race jitters after calling my mom. She is the one I call for things like this. That night I also told her about something else that was bugging me. Two weeks earlier I noticed a hard lump about the size of a marble on my left testicle. At first, I didn’t want to tell anyone but I finally did. My mom said she would schedule a doctor’s appointment. I said OK, but it has to be after the race.

We lost a tough race to Harvard and now it was time to get this lump checked.

The doctor’s office had told my mother they didn’t have the necessary instruments to check this lump on my left testicle and suggested we go to the emergency room. I went to the ER and explained to the person at the admission desk that I had a flight back to the Naval Academy for 3:00 PM. They hurried my paperwork and had me seen right away.

Blood work and an ultrasound were done, but I wasn’t too concerned. To be honest, when something is wrong with your private areas, it makes things awkward. I just kept saying to myself it wasn’t a big deal and I probably just crushed myself while rowing. After the ultrasound, the doctor said he would be back in a minute. That minute turned into thirty and when he came in he and his assistant both had blank expressions on their faces. The doctor said to me “I’m so sorry, I thought it was post traumatic.” Then told me that I had a tumor on my testicle, the veins had grown into the mass, and through the markers in the blood work it was clear that I had cancer. For the first time in my life I had nothing to say. I was shocked as I got up and walked outside to the car. My mother began to cry and I looked at her and told her nothing was wrong, that they must have made a mistake.

That afternoon, I was expected back at the Naval Academy. With this news weighing on me, I had a very quiet flight back. I never felt so alone in my life. Once back, I went to the boathouse and worked out for a very long time. I had to do something I had control over and working out was something I could control. Unable to sleep through the night, I waited until the clinic at the Academy opened up at 6:00 AM the next morning to call and make an appointment. At 8:00 AM I was in the clinic. The doctor told me that I was fine and that the mass everyone had been freaking out about was just some form of trauma to the testicle. I then told her about my ER visit the day before and that the ultrasound and blood work came back with bad results. The doctor became frustrated with me after I challenged her diagnosis; she then told me that she would call me back when she received the results from the hospital.

“Be self-aware, learn how to check yourself and advocate for your own health. Don’t give cancer or any other disease time to progress and do more damage.”

I went outside and called the one person I could always turn to, my mom. She told me she would have the results faxed immediately. I insisted on giving up. I wanted this doctor to be right. But the more I told her that, the more she said that I needed to take care of this now. At noon I received an email instructing me to report to the clinic immediately. I did and was immediately driven to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD where I was scheduled to meet with a urologist. I met with two doctors and after a brief checkup they explained that I would need surgery the next morning to remove my testicle. I kept thinking “how can this be?” I’m only 20 years old and a varsity athlete at the Naval Academy. This isn’t supposed to happen. When the doctors stepped out I couldn’t help but cry. I tried to dry the tears before they came back in but I couldn’t hold them back. I was used to an environment where everything was under control, and now everything was crashing down and I was suddenly no longer the master of my universe.

That night two things happened. First, I didn’t sleep, and then I met someone who has become one of my closest friends. I was told by the nurse on duty that there had been another midshipman diagnosed two weeks ago, so I set out, IV pole in hand, to find him. Blake Lusty was a junior at the Academy, he was built like a runner, had dark hair, a big smile and he welcomed me into the room. We talked about how I was diagnosed and how he had been dealing with the experience of his treatment. Blake taught me a valuable lesson that night. He explained that although I may not feel in control, I am in control of one thing, my attitude. Throughout the summer, Blake and I went through treatment after treatment, using jokes and encouragement to keep our attitudes in check. Blake’s cancer was much further along than mine, and while cancer is never something you want to go through with someone else, having him there made it much easier. The nurses on the oncology ward loved coming to our rooms because we would both be sitting there talking and laughing. They said they never heard so much laughter on the ward. It was how we coped, no matter how bad it got. I am now cancer free and Blake’s cancer has gone into remission, and he is in a monitoring stage.

My experiences opened my eyes. Our complacency in watching out for our own health has allowed our health care professionals to also become complacent when checking us. They seem afraid to say that we could have something wrong and minimize what is actually going on. Cancer is a scary thing but it is a part of life and something that happens to people, including teenagers and young adults, every day. To understand this allows us to build awareness and battle this horrible disease in its earlier curable stages. Cancer treatments stink but they are easier when found at earlier stages. Be self aware, learn how to check yourself and advocate for your own health. Don’t give cancer or any other disease time to progress and do more damage.


  • hard lump the size of a marble on left testicle

Update: 10 Years Later

2021: After being diagnosed with testicular cancer, I went on to graduate from the United States Naval Academy, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Shortly after attending school in Quantico, VA, I met my wife, Victoria. We were married six months later and moved to Okinawa, Japan, and have since had twin boys.

In the Marine Corps, I became a Force Reconnaissance Officer. I have maintained a healthy and active lifestyle, and I can say because of cancer, my drive to really start living exploded upon my recovery.

It is easy for young men to feel like there is no hope, but I pray other young men going through this find comfort in the fact that they have a life to live and the pain they experience today will one day be nothing but a distant memory. It is easy to get caught up in the moment but they have to keep pressing forward and find comfort in the fact that it’s not forever.