Valerie Harper has just months left to live. The actress, who is perhaps best known for playing Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, has revealed to People magazine she was diagnosed last month with a rare type of terminal brain cancer.
“I was stunned,” she says of receiving the devastating news in mid January. “And in the next minute I thought, ‘This could draw more attention to cancer research.’ I think there’s an opportunity to help people.”
Harper, 73, is suffering from leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, or cancer in the fluid-filled membrane that surrounds the brain. “This is a really complicated condition. 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,” explains Harper’s neuro-oncologist, Dr. Jeremy Rudnick.
The condition is very difficult to treat and doctors estimate Harper has as little as 3 months left to live. She is undergoing chemotherapy to slow down the disease. “I don’t think of dying,” Harper tells People. “I think of being here now.”
According to Dr. Rudnick, early symptoms of leptomeningeal carcinomatosis include blurry vision, severe headaches, seizures and “a belt-like sensation” in the lower torso. Harper, who battled lung cancer in 2009, experienced that sensation last August, but tests yielded no clues to her condition. She was diagnosed on January 15 when numbness in her jaw lead to a spinal tap.
Harper appeared in 90 episodes of Mary Tyler Moore from 1970 to 1979 and starred on the spinoff Rhoda from 1974 to 1978. She later starred on one season of Valerie, which was later known as The Hogan Family. Harper starred in numerous TV movies and made appearances on TV shows like Touched by an Angel, Melrose Place, Sex and the City, That 70s Show, Less Than Perfect, Desperate Housewives, Drop Dead Diva, and most recently The Simpsons.