Opera Singer Had Months to Live, But New Treatments Eliminated Cancerous Tumors
Zheng Cao was told she had months to live, but new treatments eradicated tumors.
Dec. 21, 2010 — -- At the annual Christmas concert of the San Francisco Boys Chorus, one voice sounded out like no one in the crowd had ever heard before. Singing "Oh Holy Night", the woman at the front of the theatre had a life story that was perhaps worthy of her own opera.
Zheng Cao, born during China's Cultural Revolution, came to America 23 years ago with virtually nothing.
"Zheng is one of God's best creatures," said Frederica von Stade, a fellow opera singer. "When he puts a lot of good things all in one person, it results in someone like Zheng."
With two suitcases at $45 in hand, Cao arrived Dec. 17, 1988. After formal training she became a household name on America' grandest stages, as one the great mezzo-sopranos to come from abroad.
But in 2008, on stage and off, something was wrong. Zheng had a pain that wouldn't go away. Soon medical tests delivered grim news.
"I said, how bad is it?" Zheng, 44, recalled in an interview with "Good Morning America." "And she said 'it's stage four.'"
Despite having never smoked, Zheng had stage four lung cancer that had spread throughout her body. Her doctors gave the San Francisco woman six months to live.
"She had 24 tumors in her brain, a tumor in her spine," said Dr. David Larson of Washington Hospital in Fremont, California. There were large tumors everywhere.
Zheng said it felt like she had dropped everything and it just scattered.
"And that moment felt so bad about "My God, what am I going to tell my friends? And what am I going to tell my parents?'"
She said she called it her death sentence of a few months. But she turned the bad news into a journey of life and living and started keeping a video diary to remember it.
And then her tragedy began to look like a miracle. Her inner circle came together quickly, formulating a plan to save her.
First, a drug called Tarceva worked wonders. Then ELEKTA Gamma Knife surgery with Larson not only shrunk but removed all 24 tumors in her brain. They called it a true miracle.