Valerie Harper is facing her terminal cancer diagnosis with the class and optimism she’s exuded since her early days on The Mary Tyler Moore show.
The woman behind Rhoda Morgenstern revealed last week that she’s suffering from leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare form of cancer that strikes the membranes surrounding the brain. But judging from her appearances on two talk-shows today, you’d never guess that Harper is even sick — though her voice was sounding a bit raspy, due to a case of laryngitis unrelated to her illness.
The four-time Emmy winner appeared first on Today to discuss her disease and her prognosis. As a healthy-looking Harper explained to Savannah Guthrie, the cancer she’s facing is incurable. Even so, it’s also not an immediate death sentence. “It could be a week, it could be three months, it could be several years” before she succumbs to the disease, Harper explained, adding that she’s determined to make the most of whatever time she has left: “I have an intention to live each moment fully.” The bottom line? “I’m not dying until I do.”
Despite this positive attitude, Harper does have moments of depression. “I don’t mean this to be Pollyanna,” the actress told Guthrie, choking up as she began to talk about her love for her partner of 34 years, husband Tony Cacciotti. Harper gets through the tough times by facing them head-on, she said: “I allow myself the grief … Life is life, and we wouldn’t have it without death.”
Harper expressed similar sentiments on an episode of the syndicated medical show The Doctors, which airs in various markets today. “More than anything, I’m living in the moment. I really want Americans and all of us to be less afraid of death,” the actress said. “Know that it’s a passage, but don’t go to the funeral before the day of the funeral. While you’re living, live.”
She also received a nice surprise on set: a surprise guest appearance by Mary Tyler Moore co-star Cloris Leachman, who stopped by to reminisce about old times and wish Harper well — in her own acerbic way, of course.