The world fell in love with Valerie Harper in 1970 when she introduced her most well known character, Rhoda Morgenstern, on the beloved sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Her friendship with Moore was as true in real life as it was on the television screen, and the pair remained close to the end. Harper was heartbroken after losing her best friend in January of this year.
In 2009 Harper survived lung cancer, but she was dealt a terrible blow after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2013. At the time she was given only 3-months to live, but somehow she defied the odds. Now it seems her time is growing short.
Harper learned more about the deadly cancer when she was diagnosed with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis in January of 2016. This incredibly rare disease occurs when cancerous cells spread to the fluid filled membrane surrounding the brain. The disease is terminal and incurable. To make matters worse, it progresses rapidly. “You have a train that’s moving 100 miles per hour,” explains Harper’s neuro-oncologist Dr. Jeremy Rudnick in an interview with People Magazine. “And what we’re doing is slowing down the train to five or 10 miles per hour [using chemotherapy drugs].”
“This is a really complicated condition,” Dr. Rudnick elaborates. “The spinal fluid is a collection of fluid that’s being circulated [through the brain] kind of like a sink. The fluid itself is growing cancer cells so they are multiplying in there. Those cells start to coat the brain.”
It’s been more than a year since her latest diagnosis, and Harper doesn’t know how much time she has left. “I was stunned,” Harper remembers when she first heard the diagnosis. “And in the next minute I thought, ‘This could draw more attention to cancer research.’ I think there’s an opportunity to help people.”
Now she’s trying to make the most of the time she has left, but she’s trying to “stay realistic” about her odds without ever giving up hope. Harper has accepted that she won’t win this fight, but she won’t give up either.
The video below was recorded in May of 2016, Harper discusses her positive attitude and how it has helped her overcome even the darkest hours.