The Doctors’ Exclusive with Valerie Harper
In a daytime television exclusive, legendary actress Valerie Harper joins The Doctors for her first on-camera interview following her announcement of terminal brain cancer. Doctors believe that the actress might have as little as three months to live.
People magazine first revealed Valerie's diagnosis in their exclusive interview in their current issue, on newsstands now.
Valerie has had a long and successful career as a multiple Emmy-winning actress, author and humanitarian. She is perhaps best known for her comedic role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Rhoda Morgenstern, a brash, spirited and flamboyantly fashioned New Yorker who became Mary's best friend and trusted sidekick.
America fell in love with Valerie's character so much that a spinoff show, aptly titled Rhoda, aired for five seasons in the mid-to-late '70s. Valerie's work is critically acclaimed and well-received by both peers and fans alike. Over the years, Valerie has inspired millions of people to laugh, love and most importantly, live.
In 2009, Valerie was informed that she had lung cancer, yet she approached her health crisis with the same determination and passion she has for her art. Valerie made a full recovery and detailed her journey in a touching memoir called I, Rhoda. Now, Valerie faces a new health challenge but is confronting it with admirable resilience, strength and courage.
Despite her prognosis, Valerie remains optimistic.
"What I have is rare. It's also incurable, so far. [Those are the words] I'm looking up — 'so far' — because they're doing research as we speak," Valerie explains. "More than anything, I'm living in the moment. I really want Americans and all of us to be less afraid of death. 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 says.
"I have moments of really sobbing, but I let myself do it," Valerie says. "I really cry and then I go, 'OK, you've been the drama queen. Are you over it? OK, now, make the pasta.' And I do."
Valerie has received an outpouring of support through her social media fans and followers, as well as her longtime friends and fellow actors.
Mary Tyler Moore reacted to the news saying, “I’m absolutely devastated by this news. Valerie has given such joy, laughter and love to the world. I join her fans and send much love and positive thoughts to her and her family during this difficult time.”
Actress Betty White says, “Here I go wheezing on at 91 years old and this beautiful, beautiful lady is facing something far too soon. We all love her so much, and we are going to make the most out of every second we can.”
“I’ve taken care of over 10,000 patients with lung cancer in my career, and I’ve never seen this exact presentation,” explains Dr. Ronald Natale, the Medical Director of the Clinical Lung Program at Cedars-Sinai.
Neuro-oncologist Dr. Jeremy Rudnick explains that a breakdown in the barrier between the blood and the brain is what makes Valerie's cancer so difficult to treat.
“The blood-brain barrier is part of the problem with brain tumors. This blood-brain barrier, from an evolutionary standpoint, was designed to protect us. It was there to protect you against bacteria and infections, but unfortunately, now, what we find is that this barrier also protects us against chemotherapy,” Dr. Rudnick says.
Since conventional chemotherapy is ineffective in Valerie's case, her doctors are administering high-dose chemotherapy. They also are using targeted genetic testing, known as next generation sequencing, to look for specific mutations in a tumor, which cause it to grow.
“We think we have about a 50/50 chance of identifying a mutation for which we hopefully will have an experimental treatment,” Dr. Natale says.
Spreading the Love
Take a look back at some memorable moments in Valerie’s career. Plus, Ed Asner, Valerie’s co-star on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, makes a surprise phone call to express his love and support.
Overcoming the Fear of Death
ER physician Dr. Travis Stork applauds Valerie’s candidness and bravery in sharing her diagnosis with the world.
“It makes [cancer], for a lot of people, a little less scary,” Dr. Travis says.
“I love to reduce the fear, because listen, we’re all terminal,” Valerie says. “We just need to hold each other’s hands, forgive each other and keep it moving.”