SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Talk about hitting a high note. A mezzo-soprano has beaten the medical odds, surviving and finding the value of friendship and love in the process.

KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:

Two years ago, Zheng Cao was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, despite never having been a smoker. The cancer had spread everywhere, including to her brain.


“Singing has such a different meaning now, knowing I could have lost all of it,” she said.

The woman she describes as a diva, mentor and angel, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade – also known as San Francisco’s beloved “Flicka,” – was by her side.


“She asked the doctor, do you have to go through her vocal chords or the throat and she said yeah, and she said can you please not do that. Can you please save her voice,” Cao recalled.


Doctors managed to save Cao, and her voice, too.


“He fixed my brain, killed twenty-four tumors, one by one,” she described UCSF’s David Larson, M.D., a man she fell in love with and married.


“Now my name is Zheng Cao Larson,” she triumphantly declared.


She has continued a regimen of daily chemotherapy to control the tumors, and aside from singing, she reminds people to pay closer attention to their health.


“With this pain, I waited seven months because I was thinking oh, I have to travel, I’ve got to sing, I’ve got to do this and do that. I put everything, I prioritized everything, before my health,” she conceded. “I’m never going to take anything for granted, especially when I stand on stage, especially when I take my breath and the sound comes out. Never, ever going to take it for granted ever again.”


“Flicka” withdrew for personal reasons from a series of concerts, and at Flicka’s request, Cao Larson will be her substitute.


“You know, for her, it’s a total willingness to leave. And for me, it’s all of a sudden it got cut. It sort of has this now, different meaning, the two of us expressing ‘the time has come,'” she said.


“She was there from the very beginning,” Cao Larson described the support she received from “Flicka.” “After I got diagnosed, she was just through it with me for almost two years.”


Cao Larson was scheduled to perform – in Flicka’s place – Friday night at the Herbst Theatre, with additional appearances in the coming days in Berkeley, Atherton and Walnut Creek.


(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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