San Francisco News

SF opera singer enters clinical trial for lung cancer

Thursday, November 11, 2010

There is an update on San Francisco opera singer Zheng Cao in her battle with stage four lung cancer. The drug that was working to keep her alive, isn't working as well. So, she's now involved in a clinical trial. She allowed ABC7 to follow her journey, as a woman who never smoked, to raise awareness about the need for lung cancer research.

Cao is thrilled about the news she received from her oncologist, Dr. Heather Wakelee, at Stanford Medical Center. Cao's blood tests came back in the almost normal range, after the first two weeks on a new anti-cancer drug called XL184 in a clinical trial.

"I am so happy I'm just like... I'm want to burst," says Cao.

Her targeted cancer drug drug, Tarceva, had been working very well to keep the cancer at bay, until just recently.

Last year, after her diagnosis, she also underwent highly specialized brain radiation from a machine called the gamma knife at Washington Hospital in Fremont. That's where she met the doctor she would later fall in love with, radiation oncologist Dr. David Larson, the man she says zapped the tumors in her brain. He's no longer her doctor.

"So, I'm still here, I can still talk, and remember everything, and remember all the words in the songs and the arias that I have to sing, it's just phenomenal," says Cao.

Cao is trying to live her life on her terms, in spite of her diagnosis, and the side effects of the experimental drug. The day after she started it, she flew to Houston, Texas to sing in a performance.

She was there for a week, came home for two days, and then flew to Brazil to sing for an international conference of radiation oncologists.

"And I said, 'please keep working hard, so people like me, can keep singing, can keep living,'" says Cao.

Cao never smoked, but she has a genetic predisposition to lung cancer.

"I have a lot of patients who have no history of smoking, a lot of patients who are young. We're seeing this more in women," says Dr. Wakelee.

Wakelee says lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the nation, yet research is seriously underfunded. She blames part of that on the stigma connected to smoking.

"I was diagnosed six years ago, and I just had a pet CT-scan last week, and it came back good," says Bonnie J. Addario.

Addario and her husband Tony started the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation in 2006, after she made it through her grueling treatment.

They've organized walks and runs around the country to raise awareness about the need for funding lung cancer research and early screening. They founded a research institute of their own, called ALCMI, the Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute. Some hospitals and labs are signing on to share information for personalized medicine.

Cao is raising her voice to help the Addarios, because they gave her moral support.

Cao will be singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" at the upcoming Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation Fundraiser at the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel Saturday night.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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