Beloved actress Valerie Harper liked to listen to Little Richard and the Beach Boys as she tidied her house. “A lot of times, we’d be dancing more than working,” her daughter, Cristina Cacciotti, recently revealed to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “My mom was just a person filled with joy.”
Diagnosed with leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare cancer of the lining of the brain, in 2013, Valerie, 79, has survived well beyond her doctors’ first prognosis by taking experimental cancer-fighting drugs. Now those miracle medicines have stopped working.
As the condition of the actress best known for playing Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show has declined, her family has struggled to say goodbye. “Her doctors have advised that she go into hospice, but my dad wants her to stay home,” Christina, 36, shared.
Her father, Tony Cacciotti, who married Valerie in 1987 after eight years together, explained his determination not to put his wife into palliative care. “I can’t [because of our 40 years of shared commitment to each other],” he wrote on Facebook in a post to update their fans. “I will do my very best in making Val as comfortable as possible.”
Cristina confided that her father has been so grief-stricken that he has been a little shut off from the world lately because he is so focused on taking care of Valerie. “He is terrible when it comes to death,” Cristina told Closer. “My mom is the center of his world — from personal to professional. She is his everything.”
Cristina last saw her mother in late February after Valerie called her from the hospital in the middle of the night. Talking was difficult because the actress has aphasia, an impairment of the brain’s language function. “She was trying to communicate, but it was hard,” Cristina said as tears filled her eyes. “She’s my mom and she’s always been my best friend.”
The strain has also been understandably difficult for Tony, 79, who in addition to being Valerie’s primary caretaker has become financially burdened with the expense of Valerie’s cancer drug regimen — just one of the experimental pills she has relied on costs $1,000. In July, a family friend started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover her medical expenses.
The situation has been tragic for everyone — including Valerie, who had previously used humor to help her family deal with the terminal diagnosis. “She used to joke that [my dad] should court one of the older ladies at the gym,” Cristina recalled. “She didn’t want him to suffer or to be alone.”
As for Valerie, she faced the inevitability of death with faith and resignation. “She said that we should be focused on our lives here and making the best out of any situation,” Cristina said. “She believed that when you pass on you only go somewhere else.”
We are praying for Valerie and her loving family.
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