Pop Culture

Valerie Harper: My cancer is 'incurable' but 'not progressing'

Cancer is no match for Valerie Harper. A year and a half after she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, the "Rhoda" actress, 74, is "feeling very good." Speaking with Us Weekly at the 32nd Annual Fred & Adele Astaire Awards at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on June 2, Harper said she was responding well to treatment. 

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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.

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

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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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  • Image: Cloris Leachman, Valerie Harper

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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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  • Image: Actors gather to honor actress Betty White

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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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  • Mary Tyler Moore, Edward Asner, Georgia Engel, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod and GEORGIA ENGEL

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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.

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  • Image: (FILE) American TV Actress Valerie Harper Diagnosed Terminal Brain Cancer Valerie Harper And Red Buttons

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    Comedy crossing generations

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

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  • Image: (FILE) American TV Actress Valerie Harper Diagnosed Terminal Brain Cancer Valerie Harper

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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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  • Image: (FILE) American TV Actress Valerie Harper Diagnosed Terminal Brain Cancer Harper Filming Rhoda

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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.

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  • Image: (FILE) American TV Actress Valerie Harper Diagnosed Terminal Brain Cancer Rhoda

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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."

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  • Image: (FILE) American TV Actress Valerie Harper Diagnosed Terminal Brain Cancer Rhoda

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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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"It is not progressing," she said of her cancer, which began in her lungs and spread to her brain. "It is going the other way. It is looking better and better, each test. It's incurable, but that's okay."

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Not surprisingly, Harper has good days and bad days — but for the most part, she feels "pretty much" back to her old self. "I'm doing quite well," she told Us. "The pills are a pain in the a--, but that's okay. I'm alive, so I can deal with the icky day or two." She added, "I was supposed to be dead in three months, and here it is a year and six months later."

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Harper will never be "in remission" — her doctor "doesn't use that term," she said — but the interventions she's tried have been very effective. "(My doctor) says you try a therapy and there's a response or a non-response. In my case, I had a great response," she explained, noting that she goes in for new tests every eight weeks.

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"I don't wake up thinking, 'I'm going to die.' I don't do that," she continued. "It's a waste of time. It really is. My husband's right there (when I wake up), and I think, 'Isn't he cute? Thank you, God, for this day.'"

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The "Mary Tyler Moore Show" alum stressed, too, that she wants to continue working, despite being sued recently by a producer who claimed she hid her health problems until after she signed on to star in his play. "There have been a couple of Broadway shows that have been offered," she said. "I'm doing a bunch of stuff. There are things right now that I'm reading, there are some revivals. I'm very excited about it."


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