TODAY   |  March 12, 2013

Valerie Harper: It’s ‘good to be open’ about illness

The legendary actress talks with TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie about why she decided to speak publicly about her terminal cancer diagnosis, and reveals what playing her most famous character, Rhoda, meant for her decades-long acting career.

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

>> up b about her cancer battle and the impact of her most famous role. on monday when we talked she was dealing with laryngitis but her message was clear. she wanted to speak out to let people know how much she appreciates their well wishes.

>> it has been so warming and so comforting and so, really -- i feel embraced. it feels awful damn good to be open about it, face it and see what you can do.

>> reporter: valerie harper , alongside husband tony cacciotti has been facing her diagnosis with grace.

>> this came out like a thunderbolt. hit us. she's so damn positive. i have been with her 34 years. she's always been this way. but now it's overwhelming at times. it's really tough because she's my best friend and --

>> you don't want me to go.

>> not yet.

>> i don't want to either.

>> despite a difficult and uncertain prognosis, valerie makes sure her time with family including daughter christina is punctuated with laughter.

>> forgiving is giving up the wish that things could have been different. they weren't. that's the past. let it go. i have cancer. it's in my brain in a strange way. what are you going to do about it?

>> you're a spiritual person. do you think about what comes after this life?

>> sure. i see it as a passage. you have to just say, i'm willing to embrace it -- whatever it is. i'm going on 74. i want people to be less afraid. i guess that's why i'm sharing it.

>> does this look real?

>> oh, come on!

>> reporter: it's a road that included bringing rhoda morgenstern to life on "the mary tyler moore show " and its spin-off, " rhoda ."

>> we're fine. joe's fighting with his suit.

>> is rhoda your favorite character?

>> oh, yes. she's been the wind in the sails of my career.

>> valerie had time to reminisce while putting together her memoir "i, rhoda " which was published prior to her diagnosis.

>> this "the mary tyler moore show " era seems like a charmed time in your life.

>> it was. i didn't know. you know, i'm part of a classic. you just know you're doing a wonderful show.

>> reporter: these days her focus is on her family, her health and the possibilities that lie ahead.

>> it was my regular internist. he said, anyone that's been in oncology for any number of years has seen spontaneous remission. they have. so what i'm saying is keep your consciousness, your thoughts open to infinite possibilities . keep yourself open to miracles.

>> i think i speak for everyone that we are praying for a miracle for her. one thing that was so striking about her. she's in such great spirits. our crew came in and when the crews come in we take over the place. she said, hey, you guys are so quiet and polite. be loud, be boisterous! i don't want a fun roeral atmosphere here.

>> she said talking about it she feels freer and she wants people to be less afraid. that's a gift.

>> it's a passage. that's an interesting way of looking at it.

>> she's given us so much, so many laughs over the years as well. we all appreciate and love her.

>> i read her book and thought, she's got life figured out. we wish her the best.