Back in early January, 73-year-old Valerie Harper was practicing in early rehearsals for the national tour of Looped. The beloved sitcom star who played the character Rhoda Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler More,” found herself struggling with her lines.
The playwright of Looped Matthew Lombardo said that for some reason, she was struggling with her lines. “We thought, “That’s strange. How can she not remember?’ She knew the play inside and out. I wrote it for her. She just didn’t seem like herself.”
Soon, other mysterious symptoms began to surface and it was too much to ignore.
Finally, Harper went to get checked out and recently told People Magazine that she was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer called leptomeningeal carinomatosis.
Unfortunately, it is a rare and swiftly deadly condition that happens as a result of cancer cells spreading into the fluid-filled membrane that surrounds the brain.
The magazine reports that doctors have estimated the actress has roughly three months to live.
Lombardo recalls how she was struggling during rehearsals of the acclaimed Broadway show that led Harper to be nominated for a Tony for best actress in 2010. He said that “Her speech started to slur one day. With that, everyone agreed it was probably best she go to the hospital. We were maybe in denial before that. We love her so much. We didn’t want to admit anything was wrong.”
It was a few days later on February 15th that doctors told Harper of her diagnosis. Harper recalls being diagnosed and said, “I was stunned,” Harper, 73, said of the diagnosis. “And in the next minute I thought, ‘This could draw more attention to cancer research.'”
One doctor recalls her battle with lung cancer in 2009 and said her recent diagnosis could be a result from this. Dr. Isabelle Germano, who is a professor of neurosurgery and director of the brain tumor program at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City, spoke with FoxNews and said, “Five percent of cancer patients have this specific complication of cancer.”
Germano has not treated Harper but commented on how some cancer becomes metastatic in a patient – which means it forms into a bulk and spreads from one organ to another – this form of metastatic disease becomes different.
“The cancer went into the fluid that is surrounding the brain and the spine, and that condition is called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis,” Germano said. “It’s different than metastatic cancer, where the cells that are parting from the original cancer in the lungs; they are like little seeds, specks of dust floating in the fluid.”
What happens is the spine and brain is protected from the other parts of the body by membranes known as meninges, which are basically wrappings. The lepto meninges, the closest and thinnest to the brain, are where these particles are floating.
Germano said that though usual metastases can be cut out of an organ surgically, this cannot be done in Harper’s case as millions and millions of cells are floating around these membranes and it is impossible to remove them all. Therefore, the disease is more serious.
Germano added that radiation and chemotherapy are used as treatments in order to help prolong the life of a patient as well as there is more research being done on new drugs. She said that according to her, there is the possibility that one of these drugs can have a better success rate.
She also says that though each patient’s symptoms vary, patients with this form of brain cancer may experience a change in mental status, headaches, trouble swallowing as well as difficulty moving their eyes or mouth.
Germano said it is “not too far off from realistic” upon hearing that Harper’s doctors have given her three months to live.
While talking with People Magazine, Harper said, “I don’t think of dying. I think of being here now.”
Mary Tyler Moore said in a statement Wednesday that, “I’m absolutely devastated by this news. Valerie has given so much joy, laughter and love to the world. I join her fans and send much love and positive thoughts to her and her family during this difficult time.”
Ed Asner, former co-star and pal, commented that he refuses to believe that she has only a few months to live. “I have come to know her much better in my latter years and have every confidence in the world that she will shock the hell out of us and survive to keep functioning as the great talent and human that she is.”
Jason Bateman, who starred with Harper in the 1986 NBC sitcom “Valerie,” spoke with Entertainment Tonight and told them that, “Valerie is someone that I’ve learned a great deal from. Not just comedically but also in her ability to put whomever approached her, or worked with her, completely at ease with a laugh and an energy that’s intoxicating.”
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