Many can recall the full-throated signature voice of Rhoda, Mary Tyler Moore’s on-screen BFF played by Valerie Harper. That same voice was stifled by a cancer diagnosis in 2009 that led to the surgical removal of a lobe of her lung.
Valerie’s cancer remained quiet until early 2013, when she suddenly had trouble speaking and remembering her lines during a rehearsal for her Tony-nominated Broadway play, Looped. She was rushed to the ER, where a brain scan suggested a diagnosis of leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare brain cancer with an average survival rate of 3 months.
It was later determined by her primary oncologist, Ronald B. Natale, M.D., of the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, that the growth was an inoperable metastasis of her original lung cancer; and that treatment would prove challenging because the blood-brain barrier renders many traditional chemotherapeutics ineffective.
“What I have is not curable. That’s not the way with this disease, apparently. But who knows? This diagnosis makes you live one day at a time, and that’s what everyone should do: Live moment to moment to moment.” (AARP)
At age 74, in the midst of her battle with a terminal cancer diagnosis, the four-time Emmy award-winning actress joined “Dancing With the Stars”, determined to live each day to the fullest and compete with her signature grace and wit. She left the show in October of 2013, at that time having beaten her initial April prognosis end-date by months.
She said of her experience, “It has been absolutely wonderful — completely unique, like nothing else in the world that you would ever do. It was an opportunity for me to carry a message to folks, not just with cancer, whatever they have — whatever challenge.” That message? “Carry on.” (TODAY)
With reports of no symptoms and a cautious optimism from her oncology team, Valerie continues to maintain a positive outlook and fight for the causes she so strongly believes in; causes like The Hunger Project, which seeks to pioneer sustainable and adoptable strategies to end hunger and poverty around the world; or the Valerie Harper Women Leaders Fund, which recently raised $200,000 in seed money and seeks to support the advancement of female leaders in the developing world.
“I’m not dying until I do. I promise I won’t…I have an intention to live each day’s moments, fully. I really want…all of us, to be less afraid of death, and know that it’s a passage, but that – don’t go to the funeral before the day of the funeral. While you’re living, live.”
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