Harper, 73, who gained fame as an actress during the 1970s on sit-coms such as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and her own spin-off, “Rhoda,” revealed this week to People that she had inoperable brain cancer and as little as three months left to live.
Her diagnosis, known formally as “leptomeningeal carcinomatosis” affects the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Some doctors try to contain the disease with radiation treatment and chemotherapy, but nothing has proved to be particularly effective. As a result, most doctors recommend against treatment, according to medical references.
“Unfortunately, leptomeningeal carcinomatosis is just a complication for which we haven’t been able to make good headway,” said Dr. H. Jack West, a medical oncologist in a posting on the Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education website.
Harper, a life-long non-smoker, previously battled lung cancer. Her current form of cancer is often seen in people who have previously suffered from lung or breast cancer.
“I don’t think of dying,” she told the magazine. “I think of being here now.” She was told about her affliction on Jan. 15. “I’m well past my expiration date already,” she said.
Harper said she will attempt to thwart the disease with chemotherapy.
Her lifelong friend, Mary Tyler Moore, said she was shocked to hear the news. “I’m absolutely devastated,” said Moore, who underwent surgery for a brain tumor in 2011.