TODAY   |  August 29, 2013

Valerie Harper doctor: Cancer ‘close to a remission’

The actress opens up to NBC’s Meredith Vieira about her ongoing battle with incurable cancer, sharing some encouraging news.

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>>> first, on "today's" cover story this morning, new details on valerie harper 's fight against an incurable form of cancer. i spoke with valerie back in march. since then she's given nbc an inside look at her ongoing battle. she recently sat down with meredith vieira . once again her amazing spirit was on full display.

>> we're all going to die. but because i have a finite time or have been told so by my doctors, i just want to live every moment to the fullest.

>> so happy. feeling good.

>> reporter: actress valerie harper gained fame as television's roda.

>> hello. get out of my apartment.

>> reporter: earlier this year, however, she made news for a very different reason. when she revealed in "people" magazine that her 2009 bout with lung cancer had metastasized to the membrane surrounding her brain.

>> it is incurable. it is very rare.

>> reporter: doctors told her she would likely only have three to six months to live.

>> in the beginning, i felt terrible. when i first heard the news, oh, my god, not me. then why not me? you know, lots of people are stuck with much worse than me. and i am afraid of what's ahead. but so what? there's much to be afraid of in life.

>> reporter: in what some might call a brave decision, harper decided to open up her home and her life to nbc 's cameras, offering an intimate look at her day-to-day fight for survival.

>> my name and my -- absolutely. valerie harper . august 22nd , 1939 .

>> there's your chemotherapy.

>> okay.

>> reporter: harper faced the illness head on. undergoing chemotherapy and incorporating eastern techniques like acupuncture and chinese tea . she knows the statistics. the odds are against her. but still she holds out hope.

>> spontaneous remission lives as a possibility. you know what i mean , girlfriend? i mean it. it's there. and i go, okay. you know.

>> why does that make you --

>> i don't know. because i think infinite possibility is beautiful in every area. a lot of stuff that looks impossible is not. and every day there's evidence of it.

>> reporter: every six weeks, an mri gives doctors a chance to see how the cancer is progressing. in june, the tail end of that three to six month prognosis, harper with her husband by her side undergoes the nerve-racking test.

>> i'm not expecting good news. i mean, i can't set myself up for that. so we'll just see what it says. i'm a little nervous. to tell the truth.

>> reporter: harper 's doctor revealed the results. and they are astounding. the scans showed a striking improvement in her condition. so if you were assessing val's condition in layman's terms right now, what would you say?

>> i'd say we're getting pretty close to a remission.

>> wow.

>> yeah.

>> reporter: did you think she'd even be here at this time?

>> no. it defies the odds.

>> reporter: that's great to hear.

>> the problem is, at any time this can change.

>> oh, yeah. exactly. it's volatile.

>> you mean tomorrow morning something could happen?

>> they develop resistance to the therapy. it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

>> reporter: so is it about buying time and the hope that something better comes?

>> life is about buying time.

>> exactly. that's what i always say.

>> reporter: for the woman who believes in infinite possibility, the mri results are confirmation that nothing is impossible. for her husband, tony, they are the unexpected gift of more time.

>> it's not curable. there's no question. it has to be managed.

>> yeah. but going from having three months to live or less. we're into our sixth month. now there's even hope beyond that. right now we're looking at -- i never planned on this. this is overwhelming.

>> reporter: for now, valerie harper has her health. but better than that, she has hope.

>> our hearts and our hopes are with valerie . she is an inspiration. we should mention you can catch meredith's hour long special with valerie thursday, september 19th , at 10:00 /9:00 central right here on nbc .