A week after announcing she has leptomeningeal carcinomatosis – a rare condition that occurs when cancer cells spread into the membrane around the brain – the 73-year-old actress best known for her roles on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and her spin-off "Rhoda" spoke to the "Today" show's Savannah Guthrie about living with an incurable cancer diagnosis – and holding out for a miracle.
"Incurable was a tough word,” admitted Harper, who had on a rainbow-colored shirt, which says so much about her still-sunny and upbeat personality. "So was terminal. But [my doctor] then said, 'It could be a week – you could have a seizure. It could be three months. It could be several years. I have people with this disease who have lived much longer than the prognosis.'"
"So it's very rare," she continued. "It's serious. It's incurable – so far. I'm holding on to the 'so far.'"
Although she is keeping herself “open to miracles,” Harper – who went public with the news last week in an interview with People magazine – became emotional talking about leaving behind her family, including her husband of 26 years, Tony Cacciotti, who initially kept Harper's diagnosis to himself because he was so devastated, and their 29-year-old daughter, Cristina.
"I'm scared for my family," she admitted. "Not going to Christina's wedding…" she trailed off before quickly adding, "But maybe I will." And when asked what is sweeter in her life now that she's received her diagnosis. "My husband's face," she quickly replied, as tears filled her eyes. "He's a gorgeous guy. I always knew that – it was part of falling in love with him. But he's so wonderful."
But that moment was brief and the interview really showcased Harper's optimism and positivity.
"I don't mean this to be 'Pollyanna.' Oh no," she admitted. "But you know what I do, Savannah? I allow myself the grief. 'I don't want to go…' And I don't. But life is life and we wouldn't have it without death."
And until then, she vows to stay in the moment.
"More than hopeful, I have an intention to live each moment fully," she beamed. "I don't know what's ahead, but I'm ready for it." While a second part of Harper’s interview will air on the “Today” show Tuesday, the star also appeared on Monday’s “The Doctors,” exhibiting the same upbeat attitude.
“While I’m still able, because it is brain, to speak [I want to] show you that I’m cooking my husband’s dinner, I’m walking on the bluff at Santa Monica, and more than anything I’m living in the moment,” she smiled.
“I really want Americans and all of us to be less afraid of death. Know that it is a passage, but don’t go to the funeral before the day of the funeral. While you’re living, live.”
- Valerie Harper