Valerie Harper Sees Terminal Brain Cancer As An 'Opportunity to Help People'

valerie harperThree months to live. I can't imagine how it would feel, being told I had as little as a handful of weeks left on this planet. I assume it would be scary and sad and frustrating. I assume it would make me angry or depressed or send me into a stubborn denial. That's what's so amazing to me about 73-year-old Valerie Harper. When the actress who won America's hearts as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and later, the spinoff Rhoda) was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer on January 15th and given approximately three months to live by her doctors, she responded in the most admirable way imaginable:

"I don't think of dying," she said. "I think of being here now."

Wow. Harper's bravery and grace are nothing short of astounding. Of course, she's beat cancer before (lung cancer in 2009), but the particular form of brain cancer she's currently fighting is extremely rare and virtually incurable ...


Called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, the disease accounts for less than 2% of all cancers and occurs when cancer cells spread into the fluid-filled membrane surrounding the brain. According to Harper's oncologist, Dr. Ronald Natale, director of the Lung Cancer Research Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, the condition "comes on quickly and progresses quickly." It's especially complicated because the fluid circulating through the brain is growing cancer cells, so the brain ends up coated in cancer.

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Symptoms include seizures, blurry vision and severe headaches, as well as a "a belt-like sensation" across the midsection. Harper also experienced numbness in her jaw.

A horrible, fatal disease. But Harper's first thoughts after being diagnosed weren't about the suffering she would experience -- they were about the suffering she hopes to prevent others from experiencing:

"I was stunned ... and in the next minute I thought, 'This could draw more attention to cancer research.' I think there's an opportunity to help people."

I hope Valerie Harper knows that she's already helping people, and that she always has -- just by being herself.

Are you impressed by Valerie Harper's reaction to a terminal cancer diagnosis?


Image via People

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