TV legend VALERIE HARPER’s secret life-or-death battle – IN HER OWN WORDS.
For the first time, the Emmy Award winning star of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”, and her spin-off comedy “Rhoda”, has publicly revealed her terrifying life-or-death struggle with the deadly disease in her new memoir – “I, Rhoda”.
Valerie said she never opened up about her ordeal before because, “I didn’t want to be pitied. I wanted to move on.”
But the star, who had followed a healthy lifestyle after her mother Iva died from the same disease, now describes her terror when a mysterious spot was found on her lung.
“My mind started to go crazy – what had I done to bring this on myself? I didn’t drink. I’d never smoked,” wrote the 72-year-old actress.
The nightmare began when she and Tony Cacciotti, her husband since 1987 and father of their adopted daughter Cristina, now 29, were in New York to see Jane Fonda in a 2009 Broadway play.
Valerie was advised to have a routine chest X-ray in Manhattan before returning to L.A. where she was to undergo surgery for a broken bone in her wrist.
Valerie was lunching with friend Nicole Barth when she got the call that something suspicious had been discovered, and she needed to return to the hospital.
“The doctors and radiologists ushered me into a darkened room. they hung my X-ray on the light box for me to see,” she writes in the book. “And there it was, high up on the right side, a little shining dime, a tiny gleaming moon.
“My God, i thought, look at that. What the hell is that doing there?”
Harper returned to L.A. to see a specialist, Dr. Robert McKenna, who had pioneered a procedure called VATS – video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery for lung disease.
He told her “nothing is certain yet,” and the tumor could be benign. But her dread of killer cancer froze her heart.
A surgical team made several inch-long incisions and inserted a tiny video camera and instruments into her body. The tumor was removed and biopsied in an adjacent room while Valerie was still on the table.
“If it was malignant, Dr. McKenna would remove the top right lobe of my lung. I was praying the tumor would be benign and the lobe would stay put.”
She got half her wish. The tumor WAS cancerous – but the disease hadn’t spread.
It was removed, and “there were no stray cancer cells hanging around,” she revealed. “The great news was that there was no need for chemo or radiation. I was cancer free.”
Ironically, her ordeal probably saved her friend Nicole’s life. Nicole later went in for a chest X-ray and found that she had lung cancer, too.
Now, Valerie writes about how important it is for early detection. Looking back at her nightmare, she notes, “I was a very lucky girl.”