TODAY   |  March 11, 2013

Valerie Harper: ‘I’m ready’ for what’s ahead

In a TODAY exclusive, actress Valerie Harper talks to Savannah Guthrie about facing a rare and incurable cancer, and describes being surprised and touched by the outpouring of support she has received, saying she can “feel the intensity.”

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back at :11 with more of our conversation with valerie harper , her first television interview since her diagnosis of incurrable brain cancer . i sat down with her and her husband at their southern california home over the weekend and although she's battling a case of laryngitis unrelated to her illness we found valerie in fantastic spirits. valerie harper charmed tv audiences as rhoda morganstern, first as the straight talking best friend on " mary tyler moore ."

>> you like it?

>> of course. i like it. i'm wearing it.

>> reporter: and then as star of her own spin-off " rhoda " where 52 million viewers tuned in to see her character tie the knot. the same fans were touched when word came of her diagnosis of a rare and incurrable cancer.

>> i said i was ready, we all should be. i don't know, but i'm ready for it.

>> have you been surprised by how much love and outpouring you have received?

>> not only love, in gesture and cards and beautiful flowers but i can feel the intensity. i really feel loved.

>> reporter: prior to her diagnosis, the 73-year-old actress had finished her memoir appropriately titled "i, rhoda ." she traces her life as a small child with a love of dance to a young performer on broadway and eventually television scar dtardom. she was going to take "looped" on the road when she began experiencing strange symptoms.

>> i had this weird feeling in my jaw. i vomited for no reason and wasn't sick. i thought that's weird.

>> reporter: a neurologist confirmed it was leptomeningeal carcinomatosis in which cancer cells invade the membranes surrounding the brain. what did you think when the doctor told you what the prognosis was?

>> oh, my husband, he hid it from me?

>> he didn't tell you?

>> he got hit like a ton of bricks. he said there's nothing i can do for her, those were my darling first words he herd. she and her husband tony cacciotti have been married for 30 years, they and their daughter cristina found out.

>> it could be six, it could be five years. you just don't know. the thing i have is very rare and it's serious, and it's incurrable so far. so i'm holding on to the so far but i'm also quite ready to say bye-bye.

>> reporter: are you ever scared?

>> sure. yeah. and i'm scared for my family. i think of, you know, not going to krcristina's wedding but maybe i will.

>> reporter: harper is going through chemotherapy in order to delete the cancer cells .

>> i talk to them, i do, i say listen you little guys you can live if you don't kill me.

>> reporter: you're talking to your cancer cells ?

>> sure? why not?

>> reporter: one of the things people love about you is that you are so joyous.

>> i am.

>> reporter: are there moments when you feel sad?

>> oh, my god, yes. oh, no, i don't mean this to be polyanna, but you know what i do, savannah, i allow myself to grieve and sometimes it's "i don't want to go," but life is life, and we wouldn't have it without death.

>> reporter: what are the things that are feeling and tasting sweeter?

>> my husband's face. he's a gorgeous guy. i always knew that. it was part of him, he 's wonderful .

>> reporter: despite the difficulty, the couple is committed to facing this challenge together. have you learned something new about valerie through this experience?

>> yes, her generosity toward people is overwhelming. she's always doing for others and that's remarkable.

>> reporter: what do you want people to know about what the two of you are going through together?

>> god, just try to live your life like --

>> handle it.

>> yeah.

>> you really can.

>> you just got to look every day and feel strong and be strong for that person. we're living our lives.

>> we are indeed.

>> and we're extremely happy.

>> give me a kiss.

>> she's an amazing woman, really touched our hearts. we'll have more with valerie harper tomorrow on "today," including the impact of rhoda on her life and her openness to the possibility of a miracle. we're