Valerie Harper, who rose to fame as Rhoda Morgenstern on the 1970s hit “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and has been given only three months to live, the actress told People Magazine .
The 73-year-old star told People that she was diagnosed with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis on January 15. The rare condition occurs when cancer cells spread into the fluid-filled membrane surrounding the brain.
Harper’s incurable disease accounts for less than 2% of all cancers and “comes on quickly and progresses quickly,” Harper’s oncologist, Dr. Ronald Natale, told People. He is the director of the Lung Cancer Research Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Harper began having a strange “belt-like” sensation in her midsection — an early symptom of the disease — in August 2012. An initial round of tests did not detect the condition but after going to the hospital in January with stroke-like symptoms, a spinal tap revealed cancer cells had spread to her spinal fluid.
The actress, who beat lung cancer in 2009, told People, “I don’t think of dying. I think of being here now.”
Harper went on to star in the “Mary Tyler Moore” spin-off series, “Rhoda,” which aired from 1974 to 1978. In later years, she starred in the show “Valerie’s Family” and recently had guest spots on “Desperate Housewives,” “Drop Dead Diva” and “The Simpsons.”
Initially stunned by her diagnosis, Harper hopes going public with her condition will help shed light on the rare disease.
“…I thought, ‘This could draw more attention to cancer research’”, Harper says. “I think there’s an opportunity to help people.”