Valerie Harper – Kicking Cancer New York Style
by Ronald Sklar
The beloved Rhoda star helps launch The American Lung Association’s Lung Force initiative.
On May 13, 2014 in Manhattan, actress and lung cancer survivor Valerie Harper, along with country music star Kellie Pickler, helped kick off of a new women’s health initiative for The American Lung Association called Lung Force.
Valerie is best known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and on her own spinoff series. The character, a tough New Yorker, was a sure foreshadowing of what Valerie Harper is made of, as we watch her deal steadfastly with her current health issues.
A climb back from the abyss is the good news all of us have been hoping for, and Valerie has handled her situation with her usual good grace and flair.
Her appearance at the event was heartfelt and über-appropriate. According to American Lung Association studies, lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of women, and more than 108,000 women in the US will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year (and not all of them smokers). On average, less than half will be alive next year.
Lung Force will help educate women on the realities of lung cancer, including public awareness and fundraising. CVS Caremark, the national presenting sponsor of Lung Force, will support the cause with in-store promotions and a chance to donate at the checkout counter.
You are encouraged to stand up and cheer for CVS, as they made the awesome decision to remove tobacco from its retail stores this year.
At this kickoff event, we caught up and checked in with Valerie, to see how she is getting along after she stunned the nation with a bleak cancer diagnosis. Things have turned around. Needless to say, her boundless energy, charm and warmth gives her health affliction a force to be reckoned with.
So Valerie, give us the prognosis, and how you are doing personally.
I’ve been battling lung cancer since January 2013, and winning. Even though I shouldn’t win, because the kind of cancer I had is called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis. It occurs in the lining of the brain, not in the brain; around the brain and up and down the entire spinal column. It’s a huge area.
The disease is microscopic. You can’t see it. It’s “evidence,” like footprints in the snow. You can see little bits of white squiggle. That’s protein created by the cancer. So that’s what the doctors are looking at, and every single test has gotten better than the one before. Go figure.
There has been some confusion about what you are suffering from.
A lot of people think I have brain cancer. It was widely reported. It’s not in the brain, because if it was, they could take it out, or they could radiate it.
But something is happening, with the pills I am taking, that these cancer cells are dying. My doctor is great. He said, “Listen, Valerie, I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve never seen anybody like you.”
Your husband, Tony, has been amazingly supportive and optimistic during this whole ordeal.
People will say, “there is no cure,” and Tony will say, “as yet.” He’s fabulous.
How are you coping?
I have an acupuncturist who is great, and I drink tea, and I do visualization all the time, where I see myself killing the cells, strangling them or kicking them or hosing them out of my head; all kinds of scenarios of getting rid of them.
Your recent memoir, I, Rhoda, shows us what a fighter you are, and how much you love and live life.
I was not desperate about doing something, like a bucket list or anything, because I’ve lived a hell of a life.
Find out more about Lung Force here.