LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 13: Valerie Harper signs copies of her book 'I, Rhoda' at Barnes & Noble bookstore at The Grove on February 13, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Leslie Nestor Miranda/FilmMagic)
(USA TODAY) -- Valerie Harper announced last week that she has incurable brain cancer, but she wants everyone to know she's feeling great.
"I'm alive. I'm feeling good. I'm trying to live every moment as much as I can."
Since her announcement last week, Harper tells USA TODAY, "the phone has not stopped, or the texts, or the e-mails. It's incredible." But she worries that people "have a picture of me in a bed or a wheelchair or in trouble. Three months may be accurate (for her life expectancy), but it is not the whole truth. I could have a seizure within a week because of the nature of this cancer," or, she says, she could live much longer.
"I can't say it's terminal. I'm saying it's incurable so far, but we're all terminal. No one is getting out of this alive," she says. "The key is, don't go to the funeral until the day of the funeral."
The star of the classic sitcoms Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Harper says that even though she is undergoing chemotherapy, "I feel better now than I did when I first started feeling symptoms." She said those were "few and far between" but included some back pain and nausea, and "a weird feeling in my jaw."
Her cancer is not considered curable, but she's having the chemotherapy with the hope the treatment will slow its spread.
"My husband says if we can slow it down, more stuff may come up," possibly new cures or treatments. "They are working fast and furiously for all of us; they're not doing this for Valerie Harper because she played Rhoda. They are doing this for cancer patients."
Her doctors' best guess: "It could a be a week, it could be three months or perhaps six months or a year. I'm already at eight months from first symptoms. I'm trying to get ready to say goodbye, and also ready to say hello if we have spontaneous remission.
"Miracles occur," she says, "or people die the next day."
A round of media appearances, which included The Doctors and NBC's Today show on Monday, as well as the cover story in this week's People, were to allow her to break the news "while I was still able. I figured I'd let everyone know the truth at one time.
"I also want people to have a path forward in terms of facing death with less fear, and a real urgent call to live in the now. Don't waste the time you do have. We're all terminal; none of us are getting out of this alive. I felt sharing my experience may be of value or assistance in some way to others."
Writing her memoir, I Rhoda, which was released in January and which celebrates her victory over lung cancer several years ago, also inspired her to talk about what's happening now. "That may have opened me up to share this new chapter. I say I'm cancer-free at the end of the book, but that insidious guy, those cancer cells, came back."
As to how she's coping, she says: "I've had very deep moments of sadness. What I do is really sob, really cry, do whatever it is and then kind of release it. Then I can go cook dinner or make a phone call to a friend. I'm living pretty normally.
"I've had a great run. I'm going to be 74. Life does not owe me a shred. I don't want to go, but it's the reality, and I'd love people to have less fear about death and encourage them to be here now. There's a lot of work to do, a lot of transformation. We all have a way to contribute, to your community, to your family, whatever it is you can do. It's a joyous part of life."