Operating On "Inoperable" Cancer

"I feel like I'm alive," said 63-year-old Brooke Zepp.

That's something she didn't think she'd be able to say nine months ago. Zepp was diagnosed with a rare and fatal cancerous tumor. It was entangled in arteries and buried so deep in her abdomen it was considered inoperable, CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports.

Dr. Tomoaki Kato, a transplant surgeon at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, saw it differently.

"If you try to remove the tumor in the usual way, it's going to cause damage to the organs that are supplied by all these arteries," Kato said. "So we just took everything out of the body."

During a groundbreaking 15-hour surgery, Dr. Kato's team opened Zepp's abdomen like the hood of a car and took out the entire engine: her stomach, pancreas, spleen, liver and large and small intestines.



Zepp and Kato spoke with co-anchor Harry Smith on The Early Show Tuesday. "I feel like it's all gone!" Zepp declared triumphantly, referring to the cancer. "I feel almost normal. Not quite. But almost," she also said. Kato noted that he was four-to-five hours into the surgery -- about a-third of its eventual total length -- before he was even sure it could be done. To see the interview, .



The organs were chilled while surgeons detangled the two-inch tumor from Zepp's aorta, the main blood-supply to those organs - and two other arteries.

Once the tumor was out, the organs, connected to new Gortex blood vessels, went back in.

"I'm shocked looking at it," Kato said. "While we were watching she was like, 'oh my goodness.'"

Now three weeks since the surgery, Zepp is looking at herself from the outside in - grateful that her gamble seems to have paid off.

"I thought it would be better to take a chance on living than on dying soon," she said.

Zepp also said she want to prove to the world that inoperable cancers can be operated on. Her cancer is now gone, and she's heading home.
  • Kelly Cobiella

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