Brave Valerie Harper explained that she’s out talking about her terminal cancer diagnosis because the disease will eventually progress to the point where she won’t be able to.
But she doesn’t want her fans to think of the TV interviews she’s doing as some sort of farewell tour. Her message of hope: Live life to the fullest.
“How can you get that diagnosis and still put one foot in front of the other?” Dr. Travis Stork asked Harper Monday on the daytime talk show “The Doctors.”
He was referring to the diagnosis and prognosis Harper revealed last week in People magazine, that she suffers from a type of brain cancer that is apparently untreatable. Harper’s doctors told the 73-year-old actress she has 3-6 months to live, People reported.
Two of those doctors appeared on “The Doctors” Monday, along with Harper, her husband Tony Cacciotti, her “Mary Tyler Moore Show” co-star Cloris Leachman, 86, and, by phone, another former co-star, Edward Asner, 83. Harper’s appearance on “The Doctors” was billed by the show as an “exclusive,” Harper’s “first on-camera interview” since she went public with her diagnosis. However, while the episode of “The Doctors” was apparently taped last week, Harper turned up on NBC’s “Today Show” Monday morning for a live interview that aired before “The Doctors.”
“Well, easily,” Harper said, replying to Dr. Stork’s question on “The Doctors” about how she’s dealing with the news. “Because [the prognosis of] three months to live — that could be because what I have is rare … It’s also incurable so far. That’s the [phrase] I’m looking at — ‘so far’ — because they’re doing research as we speak. So, I just thought, while I’m still able, because it is brain cancer, to speak and show you that I’m cooking my husband’s dinner and walking on the bluff at Santa Monica [Calif.] and more than anything, I’m living in the moment.
“I really want Americans and all of us to be less afraid of death and know that it’s a passage. But don’t go to the funeral before the day of the funeral. While you’re living, live!” she advised.
Harper — best-know for co-starring in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the spinoff “Rhoda” — fought cancer once before, in 2009, when she was successfully treated for lung cancer (which sometimes afflicts people even if, like Harper, they are not smokers). But because she had had cancer previously, she said a recurrence of cancer was not unexpected, though the type of cancer she now has could not be predicted.
“This is insidious and it does come back, so I was always watchfully waiting,” she said. “I was getting lung scans every six months.”
On the show, Harper’s doctors, along with Stork, explained her disease in full — even showing MRI images of her brain. Cloris Leachman’s appearance in the studio was staged as a surprise to Valerie — and it seemed authentic.
Asner made his “appearance” by phone. “You sound as full of life as ever,” he told his old friend. “All I know is I believe in you.”
“There’s so much love for me out there,” Harper said. “This is a lovely experience for me to be alive to [experience it].
“As you look back on your life,” she advised, addressing the “Doctors” studio audience and those viewing at home, “embrace yourselves. You’re perfect, despite your flaws.”