Valerie Harper, Marta Kauffman Team to Raise Lung Cancer Awareness

Marta Kauffman Valerie Harper

In January, Valerie Harper was told she had three months to live. Doctors had successfully removed a lung tumor in 2009, but the cancer cells had moved to her brain. Now, 10 months have passed since that diagnosis, and the TV icon is not only alive and well, she’s more active than ever. She participated in this season’s “Dancing With the Stars,” and has a Broadway show, television movie and two series in the works.

“I got a very excellent brain scan report on Oct. 13 that showed that I was continuing to show improvement. God knows why. I was supposed to be dead in March,” Harper quipped.

Having defied the medical odds, the 74-year-old actress is seizing the opportunity to make a difference. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and Harper and writer-producer Marta Kauffman are leading the charge to raise funds for research into finding a cure.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has created a clinical study around Harper to track her unusually positive reaction to her medication. She’s also in talks to create her own lung and metastasizing cancer foundation.

Kauffman, the co-creator of “Friends,” is a board member of the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, and one of the first major industry fi gures to support the cause. In September, she hosted the foundation’s “Bring on the Change” event to draw attention to the disease, and to challenge the misconception that it’s a smoker’s illness — 60% percent of new patients, including Harper, are nonsmokers.

“Because of the stigma associated with lung cancer, the dollars don’t go to lung cancer research,” Kauffman explained. “So we are punishing victims of this cancer twice: once because they get this awful disease, and then again because we don’t have the funds to do the research to save enough lives.”

Foundation president Kim Norris reached out to Harper earlier this year to help clear up media misconceptions that she had brain cancer. Norris — a lung cancer widow and patient advocate of 11 years — said the new treatment options that have become available over the past fi ve years, including targeted therapy and immunotherapy, are in desperate need of research funding.

Harper is no longer dwelling on her illness, but planning for her future.

“As time goes by, I don’t think of (the cancer) first thing in the morning,” she said. “For the first few months, I was waking up (and thinking), ‘Oh my god, I’ve got cancer. Why me?’ ” She stopped for a beat to consider. “Why not me? she asked. “A 4-year-old with leukemia; why her?”

(Pictured: Marta Kauffman, left, and Valerie Harper are working together to diminish the stigma of lung cancer.)

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  1. Jean brown says:

    To Valerie, I was diagnosed in February 2012! I was included in the UC Davis Tarceva lung cancer trials! Way ahead of you Baby! ANY patient questions you may have, I would love to help! My lesions have been “stable” throughout treatment, though I am on light oxygen 24/7! )0: I am a 70 year old past smoker!

  2. donna nealey says:

    Thank You.. thank you..thank you! I am a lung cancer survivor who was told I had a year to live. That was 13 and a half years ago semi colon they say medicine only goes so far and then God takes over and I believe truly in my heart that I was so just series of miracles. When I found out this was the number one cancer killer of men and women I couldn’t find anybodly to ask questions too so I volunteered for the American Cancer Society. What I found out was nobody wants to hear it obviously no one wants to have it and no one wants to deal with it. You are right on when you say the stigma of lung cancer has got to be eradicated, I can’t tell you how many times people have looked at my rhinestone ribbon pin and asked me what it was and the first thing they asked me “Did you smoke? what a sad thing to have happen first you’re battling for your life and then people make you feel like you did something nasty. It would be like going to a breast cancer survivor and say did you not have a mammogram. I want to thank you for everything that you have done standing up for yet and God bless you in your journey I hope you have so many more years left I’m never ask God why me when I had lung cancer but I did question him why me when I survived. I found out that I’m not too bad at being a public speaker…it’s just so sad there is not an audience that wants to learn about lung cancer. God bless you and I hope that your prognosis is as good as mine. I’ll see you when we cross over the bridge.

  3. Lynn Aseltine says:

    Valerie, so glad to see you’re doing so well. I am about to hit 2 & 1/2 years surviving Brain Cancer .I am right there with you. I say,” We are stronger than we think, ya,, we are amazing so ,lets rock on !”

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