Former Villanovan Writer Defies Medical Odds

Courtney Scrib

Every so often people come across a story of an individual or an event that serves as a testament to the existence of miracles. Rarely, however, does anyone have the fortune of actually meeting one of these individuals who brings the miraculous story to life.

Greg Mizii is only 44 years old, but he has accomplished more in those years than many people ever do during their entire lifetime.

A 1983 graduate of Villanova and former features/entertainment writer for The Villanovan, Greg’s commitment to following his passions and beliefs has guided him to the people, places and experiences that he holds closely to his heart today. From deciding where to attend college to meeting his future wife to celebrating the birth of his now three-year old son, Greg Mizii has always relied on his faith.

Yet neither he nor his family and friends could ever have imagined the test of faith he would face in late 2003.

Nearly three years ago, doctors discovered an anaplastic astrocytoma tumor growing in Mizii’s brain. These tumors, he and his wife, Seeran, were told, were the second most malignant cancer in the human body.

“My initial reaction was not negative,” Mizii said. “I never felt sorry for myself or asked God, ‘Why me?’ It is just not in my nature.”

At that time, he was working for a Fortune 500 company in sales and continued to do so months after the diagnosis. Ironically, in his previous job, he had worked for 3M selling operating room and medical imaging equipment and accessories. Meanwhile, his wife was an employee of Wyeth, a global leader in pharmaceuticals, consumer health care products and animal health care products.

Fortunately, the Miziis’ long background in and knowledge of the medical world allowed them to evaluate and decide on the most appropriate course of treatment, as well as made them familiar with the oncologists and hospitals that specialized in brain cancer.

“I have been all over the country and have dealt with people even outside of the country, as far as India and as close as Canada,” Mizii said. “They have a different approach than what we have in the United States.”

The long list of ailments and treatments Greg has survived is practically inconceivable: three brain surgeries, frontal head infections (in the holes made into the skull by surgeons), abscesses in the brain, e. coli in the brain, a brain hemorrhage, a brain blood clot, 34 radiation treatments, years of chemotherapy, placement and removal of the skull plate, a cystic lesion and a lipoma on the neck the circumference of a grapefruit.

Based on the number of medical odds he has beaten, one would have to wonder if Greg Mizii is indestructible, or perhaps even a “walking miracle.”

“It’s in my nature not to be a wimp,” Mizii said. “This illness is not about me, even though so much is focused on me. What it is truly about is that I’d better get healthy and keep on keeping on, so I can be here for my son and wife, as well as the rest of my family and friends, and do things that make their lives better. It is all about being strong and reaching out and showing that strength.”

Like Mizii, his father, who had been sick for a while and died around the same time Mizii’s tumor was first discovered, also was blessed with a will powerful enough to challenge any obstacle.

“Before my father died, he didn’t pout or ask God, ‘Why me!’ He dealt with it,” Mizii said. “It is what it is. Be a real man and deal with it.”

Although he is only three years old, Mizii and Seeran’s son has already begun showing the same toughness characteristic of his father and grandfather. Having only known illness his whole life, he has had to face things that most two and three-year olds don’t face. Mizii calls his son an “angel” for the way he has handled everything.

“He wants to fix me and kiss my ‘owie’ away,” Mizii said. “He says, ‘Daddy, I don’t want you to die of a brain tumor.’ “

Because of the coordination and cognitive deficits and other complications due to his illness, Mizii has been unable to work for the past two years. Recently, Seeran also had to leave her job in order to stay at home to take care of her husband and son.

“The main thing is, I don’t want my illness to define my family,” Mizii said. “That is a really hard balance because so far it has, and I am trying my best to act normal and not like somebody with brain damage. I really have a lot of deficits and just totally overcompensate every moment and every word of every moment in each day.”

However, from how he describes his college years, the Pennsylvania native has always approached life with a “carpe diem” state of mind.

One of the biggest influences in his decision to attend Villanova was his cousin, Fr. Pascal DeCicco, who is an Augustinian priest and pastor at Olde St. Augustine’s in Philadelphia. (As an enthusiast of all things media-related, Mizii is quick to point out that it is the same parish where “The Sixth Sense” was filmed.)

“Good people do influence others and I was influenced by (my cousin) and his positive demeanor,” Mizii said. “I saw the kind of person that Fr. Pat DeCicco had become and I used to think to myself, ‘I want to become like that guy.’ “

While he may not have followed his cousin into the priesthood, Mizii did emulate Fr. DeCicco’s enthusiasm for learning, dedication to serving others and demonstration of a deep faith. A lover of good conversations and the arts, Mizii took great pleasure in spending time and talking with the priests and his professors. Father Roman, Fr. Shanley, Fr. Farsaci, Fr. Jack O’Rourke and Dr. Elaine Boskowski were among those he speaks of the most. He also credits Dr. Bruce Morgan for furthering his interest and developing his talent in the theater. Not long after coming to Villanova in 1980, Mizii, a self-proclaimed number-cruncher, decided to change his major from electrical engineering to communication.

“These people were all really caring people and showed me that being kind and helping people was the way to think, instead of how much money I could make with the degree I am getting,” Mizii said. “They taught me to follow my bliss.”

Mizii found bliss in avenues outside of religion and academics, as well. After watching The Moody Blues perform in concert, he wrote an article for The Villanovan’s entertainment section and discovered another way to satisfy his natural inquisitiveness.

“It was very exciting for me because they had the number one album in the country and I got to see them, ask questions and generally do something that I loved to do,” Mizii said.

He also contributed to local community newspapers, including The Main Line Chronicle, Suburban Wayne and Times and The Main Line Times.

During his freshman year, Mizii became involved with the University’s radio station, WKVU (which eventually was renamed XVU). For three years, he worked as the station’s chief engineer. Not a stranger to the music business, Mizii had interned at local radio stations, played the guitar, wrote songs and performed in live shows when he was a student at Lower Merion High School. For him, the University’s radio station was a natural progression.

“I liked the freedom of the print and broadcast media,” Mizii added. “My interests were not partying or thrill-seeking. They truly were doing the right thing, working at [radio stations] on weekends and on graveyard shifts and searching out spirituality, faith, trust, honesty, loyalty and staying away from the dark side of life.”

Following graduation in 1983 (he graduated in three years because he doubled his course load), Mizii went on to work in sales at WZZD-990AM and was later promoted to sales manager. In 1987, he decided to leave the radio station and pursue music full-time. That same year his friend, who he grew up with in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., introduced him to her roommate, Seeran.

Mizii eventually returned to the corporate world, where he worked until his illness forced him to resign. Nearly three years after being diagnosed, doctors have informed the Miziis that the tumor appears to be morphing into a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most malignant of all brain tumors. The average lifespan for a person with GBM is eight months.

“My treatment is on-going and will be so far as long as I live,” Mizii said.

Although his main U.S. hospital can offer him any clinical trial available (should he need it), Mizii believes that the best clinical trial for him is located in Sydney, Australia. In addition to Australia, he has also explored available alternative treatments in countries like China.

While the Miziis are grateful for their American doctors and the nation’s cutting edge technology, according to Mizii’s research, the United States has been ranked as low as 27th in the world in its success rate of treating brain tumors and as high as 11th. Some medical experts have attributed these statistics to the American diet and patients’ reluctance to change their eating habits even after being diagnosed with cancer. Greg, however, refuses to fall into that self-destructive category.

In January of last year, Mizii began seriously pursing a natural/non-conventional treatment based on the advice and medical expertise of Dr. Lorraine Day, who has been an orthopedic surgeon for over 30 years and came from the same medical background as Mizii.

“She had faith in Jesus, which caught my ear,” Mizii explained. “I listened to what she had to say and it made perfect sense to me from all the studying I had been doing on tumors and cancer.”

Mizii, however, took it much further than what Day proposed. He began taking supplements and following a strict alkaline/vegan diet, consisting almost exclusively of raw food. Every day he takes 250 supplements and carefully balances those with herbs and organic foods in order to build and strengthen his immune system. The expenses for Mizii’s treatment cost him and his family thousands of dollars each month. Unfortunately, the extremely high costs are not covered by health and medical insurance.

Family and friends have pulled together in an effort to help Mizii pay for all of the things he needs to stay alive and healthy. On April 1, his friends, Lisa and David Semerjian, organized an ice skating party and fundraiser at the Flyer’s Skate Zone. All of the funds raised went towards the Greg Mizii Wellness Campaign and the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education. The Center, which is located in Wynnewood, Pa., is a non-profit organization founded by executive director Susan Silberstein, Ph. D., in 1977.

Mizii admits that there are times when he becomes frustrated. Yet even in those instances when he feels the illness slowing him down, he still refuses to take the easy way out. Instead, he dedicates himself to finding ways to prolong his life for the sake of his family.

“It is much more honorable to be a real man and do the things that will extend life,” Mizii said. “It could be real easy, but wrong, of me to let go because I have been on the edge of death, where I was at the point where I could have checked out, but I was not going to leave my wife and son alone. We need each other. “

Certainly, Mizii has proven himself a real man.

It is his story that is unreal.