Published on Mar 10, 2013

"All my life, people have had a connection to me because of Rhoda," Harper, who seems decades younger than her 73 years, says of her beloved TV alter ego, working gal Rhoda Morgenstern. "Now there are things I want to share." What Harper calls her "transformative moment" would be catastrophic news for most people: On Jan. 15 doctors informed the star that she has a rare and incurable form of brain cancer that can prove fatal in as little as three months.

The disease, which accounts for less than 2 percent of all cancers, "progresses quickly," says Harper's oncologist Ronald Natale. "It is a terminal diagnosis." The grim finality of it "hit me like a sledgehammer," says Harper, who until now has only shared the news with a handful of close friends and family members. " 'Incurable' is such a concise word," she says, her eyes brimming with tears. "I was terrified."

And yet in the weeks since, Harper -- a nonsmoker who successfully beat lung cancer in 2009 -- has resolved to tackle what little time she has left with the same wry humor, grace and plucky pragmatism that has endeared her to generations of fans. "Cancer makes real what we try to obscure from ourselves," says the candid star, who is fond of peppering her conversation with Rhoda-esque wisdom. "We spend our lifetimes thinking, 'I'm never going to die.' But cancer says, 'Hey, not so fast.' "

Video courtesy of YouTube.