You are using an unsupported browser. Please use the latest version of Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Edge.
The one hundred honoree: Valerie Harper

Donor Story

The one hundred honoree: Valerie Harper

Mass General Giving

For many people, four-time Emmy Award winning actress Valerie Harper is best known as Rhoda from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But most recently, she’s become a beacon of hope and inspiration for cancer patients by publicly battling leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare condition in which cancer cells spread into the membranes around the brain.

In 2009, Valerie was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, and after her tumor was removed, went back to normal life. But in 2013, she began to experience strange symptoms that turned out to be an unusual metastasis of her lung cancer. Given as few as three months to live, Valerie decided to ignore her death sentence, and go on living life as fully as possible. She joined the cast of Dancing with the Stars and jumped at the challenge of daily four-hour rehearsals. More than a year later, she’s still hard at work, guest starring on television shows and sharing her cancer experience in interviews.

Why did she do all of this? “Maybe, if people are inspired, they’ll take a walk. I don’t mean [that they should] go on Dancing with the Stars, but maybe they’ll just get off the couch or maybe they’ll enjoy the garden instead of crying or being so depressed about losing their life in such a mean way.” And lest her viewers think it all an act on TV, her cast and crew were just as inspired by her behavior off camera. Her dancing partner, Tristan, said, “Sometimes you get very lucky in your life to meet someone who can affect you more than this show could at all. I feel like I’ve been very lucky to get that. And I feel like maybe my life’s a little bit better since I met Valerie Harper.”