Valerie Harper: Moving Forward from Cancer

Valerie Harper’s infectious laugh and broad smile say everything about the mental attitude of a woman who was given just a few short months to live—and has already beaten the odds.

“I am doing well so far, but who knows what tomorrow brings,” says Harper, 74, in that well-known gravelly voice. “I could have a seizure right now and fall down on the street tonight. But I’m not thinking in those terms.”

Right now, Emmy-winner Harper, best known for her 1970s role as Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and her own spin-off series, has never been busier in her career. In mid-January, she was promoting two shows: UP’s The Town That Came A-Courtin' and Hallmark Channel’s new spring series Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

Jumping back into work proved to be the best medicine for Harper. “It gave me a lot of confidence that [my cancer] wouldn’t be a problem,” says Harper, who takes medication once a week.

Harper, a non-smoker, has battled non-small-cell lung cancer since 2009. In 2013, she learned it had metastasized into the lining of her brain. She says her doctor doesn’t use the term remission, but says the cancer is responding to treatment.

“I’m feeling very good. And there are so many people who have cancer that are out there suffering terribly,” Harper says. “I have no side effects, very few, and my brain scans keep improving. I was supposed to be dead by Easter 2013, and here it is 2014. So I am pleased.”

And once she got over the “why me?” initial shock, she was determined not to let the diagnosis slow her down and to spread the word about how even non-smokers can get lung cancer.

“I’m moving forward,” Harper says. “Of course, it’s incurable and it’s terminal, but aren’t we all?”

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