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Valerie Harper 'moving forward,' promoting new projects amid lung cancer fight

Valerie Harper arrives at the 82nd Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013 in Los Angeles. Harper is busy with new TV projects despite battling lung cancer." THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
January 13, 2014 - 1:14 PM

PASADENA, Calif. - Valerie Harper is busy with new TV projects despite battling lung cancer.

"I'm feeling good and moving forward, it looks like," the 74-year-old TV icon told reporters covering the Television Critics Association Winter press tour.

Harper looks robust and engaged in a warm and lively post-session scrum with reporters.

Of her illness — she was originally told by doctors she would not live past last April — she added, "of course, it's incurable and it's terminal, but aren't we all?"

Harper was at press tour to promote "The Town That Came A-Courtin'," a U.S. cable movie shot in Langley, B.C. The romantic family drama stars Lauren Holly ("Motive") as an author on a book tour in a small town in Mississippi.

Harper's character, a local B&B owner, plays matchmaker, putting the author together with the town mayor, played by Winnipeg native Cameron Bancroft ("Beverly Hills, 90210").

Canadian director David Winning ("Mr. Young") says the cast and crew used Harper's "Energizer-bunny energy to power the set." He says it was "one of the most rewarding experiences I've had as a director" to share Harper's "infectious sense of 'now.'"

Last fall, Harper went through the rigours of participating in the most recent edition of "Dancing with the Stars" and also shot an episode of "Hot in Cleveland." She's heading north shortly to guest star in an upcoming TV pilot.

She says working through her diagnosis and treatment has given her the confidence to continue taking on projects and challenges.

Harper added that she takes medication — "really strong stuff" once a week "that seems to be doing the trick."

The treatments pack a wallop and have to be timed, she says. This was especially true during "Dancing with the Stars," where medication had to be timed and fitted in between rehearsals and performances.

She's keenly aware that there are "many people that have cancer that are suffering terribly. I have no side effects, very few, and my brain scans keep improving. I was supposed to be dead by Easter and here it is 2014. So I am pleased."

Harper's cancer, she explained, is localized in the lining of her skull, but it is lung, not brain cancer. It is difficult to treat.

"They don't want to radiate the brain," she added, although she says her doctors have come up with ways to target areas.

The Emmy Award-winning actress says she has no problem with being a spokesperson for her condition.

"It's the most neglected cancer," she says of the lung variety. "More people die of lung cancer and there's a 15 per cent survival rate."

She points out that 60 per cent of new lung cancer patients are, like herself, non-smokers.

Early testing is key, she suggests. Her own doctors did not arrive at a lung cancer diagnosis for at least a month. Her brain is being scanned every two months, and she says she's fine with that. She's also undergoing traditional Chinese acupuncture and drinks a special Chinese tea every day.

Her doctors at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles do not say her cancer is in remission, she says. They look at it more in terms of response or non-response to the treatment.

"With you, we're getting a fantastic response," she says they tell her.

"I am doing well so far, who knows what's tomorrow. I could have a seizure and fall down tonight but I'm not thinking in those terms."

Her post-cancer career boost she credits to "the publicity bubble." Beyond that, Harper says the experience has had a personal up side. People, for one thing, simply look at her in a whole new way.

She told reporters who had gathered around her after the session — many who grew up with her throughout the '70s on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Rhoda" — that she can feel and treasures the affection.

"Your faces are beautiful. I wish I could turn this around and you could see yourselves."


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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