Valerie Harper on why she joined 'Dancing With the Stars': 'Why not?'

Valerie Harper's public announcement in March of her terminal cancer diagnosis has generated an enormous amount of public interest and sympathy. But the former "Rhoda" actress has not taken her diagnosis (or recent discovery that she's close to remission) lying down. A former dancer, she's bounced back by competing on "Dancing With the Stars," and is now the subject of a new documentary hosted by Meredith Vieira, "Valerie's Story," which airs on NBC Thursday night.

Harper appeared on TODAY Thursday morning via remote linkup, while Vieira sat down alongside TODAY's Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer to preview the big story, which shows Harper at home with her family as she fights the disease.

"It's incurable, but we're moving in the right direction," said Harper. "Each subsequent brain scan has been an improvement, and they don't expect that with this leptomeningeal carcinomatosis. ... I'm really happy with the way things are going."

Video: Exclusive bonus clip from "Valerie's Story: A Meredith Vieira Special"

The 74-year-old also addressed comments some skeptics have made about her simultaneous cancer diagnosis and ability to hoof it on "Dancing."

"There are so many people living with cancer and even dying with it, but not of it," she said. "So I thought this is a good chance to do it. Do 'Dancing With the Stars' since my doctors have told me to exercise and not to worry about any physical problem with the kind of cancer I have, I thought, 'Why not do it?'"

Still, all that dancing is playing heck with at least one body part. "The problem I'm having is my knee, you know, not the cancer!" she chuckled. 

But she takes heart from what her former dance teacher once told her: "Never stop moving."

"Valerie's Story" airs Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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    Image: Valerie Harper Book Signing For "I, Rhoda"

    Valerie Harper

    The Emmy Award-winning star of "Rhoda" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" boasts an acting career that dates back to the 1950s.

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    Actress and author -

    Valerie Harper, seen here signing her book "I, Rhoda" in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, 2013, announced in March that she has terminal brain cancer. "I've had a good run," Harper, 73, told People magazine. "What more could I ask for?"

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    Pinching a pal -

    Harper mugs with Cloris Leachman in 2011. The two actresses co-starred together on the 1970s hit "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," with Harper playing Mary Richards' best friend Rhoda Morgenstern, and Leachman playing landlady Phyllis Lindstrom.

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    Mary's gang -

    Harper and more members of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" cast reunited in 2008 when co-star Betty White, who played Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens, was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. From left, the cast members are Gavin MacLeod, Cloris Leachman, Mary Tyler Moore, White, Harper, and Ed Asner.

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    From one great ensemble to another -

    "Mary Tyler Moore" cast members MacLeod, Leachman, Moore, Harper, Georgia Engel and Asner present the award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series at the 2007 Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. The award that year went to the cast of "The Sopranos."

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    Family affair -

    Harper starred on her own 1980s family-themed sitcom, which changed titles from "Valerie" to "Valerie's Family" to "The Hogan Family." Josh Taylor played her husband, a pilot, with Danny Ponce, Jeremy Licht and Jason Bateman as her sons.

    NBCU Photo Bank
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    Comedy crossing generations -

    In 1982, Harper posed with legendary comedian Red Buttons in Los Angeles.

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    Colorful and classy -

    Harper was long known for her colorful use of head scarves, as seen here in this image from her "Mary Tyler Moore" spinoff, "Rhoda," in 1975.

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    Name in lights -

    Harper, shown here in 1975 at the set of "Rhoda," began with the character of Rhoda Morgenstern on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in 1970. Her character, Mary's best friend, became so popular that from 1974-1978, she starred in the "Rhoda" spinoff, which took the character away from Mary in Minneapolis and back to her hometown of New York. Although Morgenstern was famously Jewish, Harper herself is Catholic.

    Terry O'neill / Getty Images
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    Friends forever -

    Harper and Moore share a laugh in 1975. After Harper left for "Rhoda," she still made appearances on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." In 2000, the actresses revisited their characters for the TV movie "Mary and Rhoda." In the film, both women are single with college-age daughters and living in New York. Fans were critical of the movie because it barely referenced the universe of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

    CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images
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    All together now -

    The "Rhoda" cast featured Harold J. Gould and Nancy Walker as Rhoda's parents, Julie Kavner as sister Brenda, Harper, and David Groh as Rhoda's husband Joe.

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    Emmy winners -

    Harper and "Mary Tyler Moore" co-star Ed Asner won Emmys for best supporting actress and actor in 1971. Harper would also win the supporting actress Emmy in 1972 and 1973, and then the Emmy for lead actress in 1975 once she'd moved on to "Rhoda."

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