Valerie Harper Denies She's Cancer-Free

Celebrity News Apr. 18, 2014 AT 12:50PM
Valerie Harper Valerie Harper clarified a quote of her saying she's "cancer-free," telling Howard Stern she has "less cancer" Credit: Barry King/FilmMagic

Fans of "Rhoda" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" rejoiced Wednesday when Valerie Harper announced that she was "cancer-free" in Closer magazine.

Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived. Harper, 74, soon after released a statement clarifying her comments as to how she's really doing since being diagnosed with cancer early last year.

"In response to a recent erroneous quote concerning my health, I am not 'absolutely cancer-free,'" Harper said. “I wish I were. Right now what I am is cautiously optimistic about my present condition and I have hope for the future."

The actress further described her condition during a new interview with Howard Stern on Wednesday to promote her guest arc on the Hallmark series, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," which premieres this Saturday.

"In a nutshell, each eight weeks I have a brain scan — a non-invasive MRI — and consistently, in a straight line, it's gotten better and better," she told Stern. "Less cancer."

Harper continues to take what she called a "pulse dose" of medication once a week (rather than every day).

Otherwise, she told Stern, she feels no physical symptoms.

Although Harper stopped short of saying she was free of the disease, the considerable improvement in her health has caused some confusion. How can a woman told she has three months to live by a doctor suddenly appear to be all better?

Malcolm Schultz, a psychotherapist with the L.A.-based Cancer Support Community-Benjamin Center, told Yahoo the cancer patients he's worked with in support groups over the past 31 years know that it’s not so simple in any case of the disease.

"Doctors are using the 'cure' word and the 'remission' word much less and are using the words 'no evidence of disease' much more, that seems to be the trend,” Schultz noted. "They're not necessarily saying that there's no disease there. It’s just that they can’t see it or test for it at this point.”

Harper explained her situation in much the same way on Stern's Sirius XM radio show: "They say it's terminal and this is incurable, because they don't have proof that it's curable."

The former "Valerie" star, who had lung cancer in 2009, revealed in March 2013 that she had been diagnosed in January with a rare cancer, leptomeningeal carcinomatosis. The sad news followed an incident while Harper was rehearsing and thought she was having a stroke, because she couldn't remember her lines and she had numbness in her jaw and dizziness.

When Stern asked Harper whether she had brain cancer (as was widely reported), she quickly said no. "Imagine two pieces of saran wrap with spinal fluid in between," Harper said. "That's around the brain and up and down the spine and around the genitals to protect… [so] bacteria and infection don't get in there..."

Harper added that she only went public with her diagnosis because there were false reports going around.

The actress credited "great care and wonderfully researched new medicine" with keeping her alive.

Though she admitted her diagnosis was a tough period in her life, she said that now cancer does not keep her from working at all.

"In the beginning I cried a lot, I was mourning," Harper revealed. The news also prompted her to finalize her will and to feel more grateful.

One year later, her philosophy is simple: "Don't go to a funeral before the day of the funeral. We're all terminal."

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