University of Southern California
USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

Cancer's New Normal Research Fund

Benefiting the Cancer Research of Dr. Michael Wong

Niki

Hi! I'm Niki. I work in radio as a morning DJ for Sunny Country 102.5 & 96.1 on the Central Coast (sunnycountry.com). I've been there since 2002. It's a job that I love, because I get to meet so many people, and hopefully, impact lives in a positive way.


When cancer strikes, life changes.
You have to learn to live with a "new normal"... cancer's new normal.

You can view these forced changes as unfortunate, and suffer your way through your remaining time... or you can feel lucky that you now appreciate every little thing you once overlooked in your busy day-to-day life. More importantly, you can feel lucky that you now have a real chance to make a difference in people's lives. You can inspire, you can show them how to fight, and you can teach them how important science and research are, by sharing your story.

So... here is my story...

I will never again think "it can't happen to me". At 44 years old, an avid cyclist in the best shape of my life, I never saw it coming. My Trek bicycle was ready for the usual 22 miles of “mental break ride” at lunch the day I had a seizure while on air. It was a Friday. April 12, 2013 at 8:15 am. An ambulance ride to the ER and a few hours of searching/scanning revealed “at least 3 tumors” in my brain, along with three more in my lungs. Eleven days after that ER visit, I was already at USC Keck (University of Southern California) undergoing brain surgery. My life had changed in an unforeseen moment. I had cancer, and if I wanted to remain alive, there was no time to waste. Even with 20/20 hindsight of my condition, I still cannot point to any definite signs/symptoms that my body and brain were being overtaken by cancer.

I was diagnosed that April with Stage IV Metastatic Melanoma. Yes, melanoma can be more than skin deep! The craniotomy was followed three weeks later with gamma knife radiation to treat the tumors that remained in my head. Another four days passed, and we began immunotherapy at USC Norris Cancer Center to treat the tumors that had been discovered in my lungs. The first batch of immunotherapy was completed in late July 2013, followed by another round of gamma knife brain radiation in late September to treat 2 new brain tumors.

Fast forward almost 2 years since that fateful day in April 2013, and I'm still here! Still learning and still fighting. Check ups come in 3 to 4 week intervals. We've come to know the doctors, nurses, and staff quite well. My medical team, led by Dr. Michael Wong, smiles with me, laughs with me, and fights right alongside me. In the past two years, I've had my head cut open, a chunk of lung removed, resection of a lump on my back, a record nine rounds of gamma knife brain radiation, eight rounds of immunotherapy treatments, and four months of what we laughingly refer to as "Mike's Magic Pill".

One key problem in treating patients with melanoma cancer is the incredible propensity of this cancer to spread beyond the initial tumor site. Oftentimes the tumor cells have escaped into the body even before surgery can be carried out on the primary lesion. It is the spread of the cancer, more than its initial growth, which makes melanoma life threatening.

Dr. Wong’s research team is attempting to solve this problem by identifying the molecular ‘zip code’ of the melanoma metastases and then design treatments that target only these locations. Using new molecular techniques that have proven successful in treating several other types of cancer tumors, they are now able zero in on those molecules on the surface of the blood vessels inside melanoma tumors. They anticipate that this new knowledge will enable them to identify melanoma tumors earlier, and for the first time, gives them the capability to selectively target these tumors while sparing the healthy body.

Nothing is the normal that it used to be. We now have "cancer's normal"... and it really isn't all bad. This journey isn't always a roll through the park, but I know that pain is temporary, and I have been shown that some good can come from horrible things.

Make your donation to benefit Dr. Wong’s research using the button below. Be sure to click on the "Memorial or honorarium information" link on page two of the donation form and indicate your gift is in honor of "Niki Kozak."

Giving Website

For those of you who would like to make your contribution by check or donor advised fund, please make the check payable to "USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center" and write "In Honor of Niki Kozak" in the memo line. Checks should be mailed to the following address with an accompanying cover letter that includes your full name, preferred mailing address and phone number, and the designation of the gift (Niki Kozak – Cancer’s New Normal):

Lee McCabe
USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center
Ezralow Tower
1441 Eastlake Ave, Suite 8302
Los Angeles, CA 90089.

USC Norris is part of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and University of Southern California and use USC’s Federal Tax ID Number: 95-1642394. For Questions about your gift please contact Lee McCabe at (323) 865-0977 or by email at Lee.mccabe@usc.edu.