This week Valerie Harper, the Emmy award winning actress who recently announced she has incurable brain cancer appeared on The Doctors. I had to watch. Only a few years ago my husband, Phil was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. He died eighteen months later.Like Harper, he didn’t ask, “Why me?” but rather said, “Why not me?” Like Harper and her husband of 34 years, Tony Cacciotti; we chose to focus on possibilities not the prognosis. While we told friends and family of the diagnosis we didn’t mention the prognosis to anyone. The doctor who diagnosed Phil told us right away that he had only twelve to eighteen months to live. He said the tumor was inoperable and even if it could be removed it would return. We went to a different doctor. After three doctors declared the tumor inoperable, Dr. Alan Friedman of Duke University’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center said, “I can remove this tumor.” Phil’s reply, “I can come next week. Right now I’m snow skiing.” He took the call from his cell phone on top of a black diamond mountain in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
I’m not dying until I do,” Harper told the Today show’s Savannah Gutherie in a recent interview, “I have an intention to live each … moment fully.” Amen, Sister! Phil felt the same way. He lived his whole life full so there was no ‘live like you’re dying’ awakening upon diagnosis, but the last eighteen months he kept right on going. During that time we had several parties, traveled, snow skied, took motorcycle trips, saw the Grand Canyon, and he maintained his position as the top salesperson for his company. That’s more than some people do in a lifetime!
We knew the prognosis. We also knew that miracles happen. We knew that medical research is bringing new treatments every day and that the statistics that go into a prognosis are not based on the new treatments and drug combinations that are being used today. We lived with hope.
Some doctors say they don’t like to give false hope. There is no such thing as false hope. There is hope and there is no hope. Five months after a successful tumor resection, the cancer returned and Phil did die in eighteen months like the doctor said, but during that time we lived with hope.
I hope that Valerie Harper will get a miracle. That medical science will find a cure or successful treatment very fast. I wish her love, laughter and fun, every moment of every day for the rest of her life, however long that is! And I wish her continued hope because there is one thing that I know for sure–I’d rather die with hope than to live without it!