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Science & Love

David Larson, M.D., PhD

Wedding of Zheng Cao and David Larson

In April 2009, Zheng Cao, a non-smoker, received the harrowing news that she had stage 4 lung cancer which resulted in brain, liver and spinal metastases. As an opera singer, the diagnosis could hardly have been worse; the tumors on her spine just behind her vocal chords were particularly challenging. And there were 26 tumors in her brain. 


Her mentor and one of opera's most beloved artists, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, Zheng's family, and her closest friends refused to accept the dire diagnosis. They worked together to help Zheng find a path to fight the cancer. That path led to Dr. David Larson, a radiation oncologist at the University of California, San  Francisco and at Washington Hospital in Fremont, California.


Dr. Larson began treating Zheng with a remarkable technology he had pioneered for the past 20 years, Gamma Knife radiation therapy. Dr. Larson began work on Zheng's brain tumors.

This began a four-year battle with her cancer.

Subsequently, the doctor-patient relationship turned to friendship and later to love. Dr. Larson and Zheng Cao were married in a joyous ceremony in the Getty Mansion in San Francisco in December 2010.

Her lung cancer was not completely eradicated, however, and Zheng's courageous battle ended in 2013, ending her brilliant career and her storybook romance with David Larson.

Her last public performance was in 2011 with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra where she premiered Nathaniel Stookey's Into the Bright Lights with words by Frederica von Stade. 

On February 21, 2013, Zheng Cao died from complications from lung cancer at her San Francisco home which she shared with her beloved Dr. Larson. She was 46.

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