Valerie Harper, diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in January and given three to six months to live, has defied the odds and as of June was close to remission, the actress and her doctor revealed Thursday morning on the “Today” show.
The 74-year-old “Rhoda” star, who went public with her diagnosis in March, has combined chemotherapy with Eastern options including acupuncture and Chinese tea. Harper has the rare condition leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, which occurs when cancer spreads to the fluid-filled membranes that surround the brain. It’s a metastatic form of cancer, meaning it traveled to those membranes from the lung cancer she was diagnosed with in 2009.
But even though it’s good news, it doesn’t mean her brain cancer is cured.
“The problem is that any minute this can change ... ,” her doctor said. "[Patients] develop resistance to the therapy and it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”
Harper has maintained an upbeat public attitude since her cancer revelation, which she shared in detail at the time with People magazine. Now, she’s cooperated for “Valerie’s Story — A Meredith Vieira Special,” set to air Sept. 19 on NBC. The cameras travel into Harper’s home and even accompany her to chemotherapy.
Before learning of her new status, she explained to Vieria, “Spontaneous remission lives as a possibility, do you know what I mean, girlfriend? ... It’s there. ... I think infinite possibility is beautiful in every area.”
And that possibility manifested as reality, in this case.
Harper’s husband, Tony Cacciotti, naturally, was thrilled by the prognosis.
“Going from having three months to live or less,” he said, “we’re into our sixth month and now there’s even hope beyond that, right now we’re looking at ...
“We’re looking at Christmas,” said his wife.
“This is overwhelming,” Cacciotti said.
Another possibility in Harper’s future: a whirl as a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars.” TMZ reported the rumor Wednesday, naming Tristan MacManus as her partner. The new “DWTS” cast will be officially revealed Wednesday on “Good Morning America.”
[For the record, 2 p.m. Aug. 30: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Harper “beat lung cancer." Leptomeningeal carcinomatosis is a metastatic form of cancer, meaning it traveled from the lungs.]