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Originally published Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 5:08 AM

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Valerie Harper’s hoofing on ‘DWTS’ an inspiring turn

The sitcom star, who revealed her cancer diagnosis in March, is a contestant on the 17th season of “Dancing with the Stars” — a rigorous regimen that would have been unthinkable for a 74-year-old cancer patient a decade ago.

New York Times News Service

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‘Dancing with the Stars’

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Regardless of which celebrity ultimately cops the silver disco-ball trophy on the latest iteration of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” there’s only one cast member with whom the nation is fully invested.

She, of course, would be Valerie Harper, the courageous and beloved 74-year-old actress who starred in the classic 1970s TV sitcoms the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spinoff “Rhoda.”

When Harper revealed to the world in March that she had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and that her doctors told her she likely had just months to live, the last thing she expected was that she’d be competing just six months later in one of the most physically grueling and demanding reality shows on television.

Especially considering that long before her cancer diagnosis, the award-winning entertainer — and former Broadway dancer — had politely declined the hit show’s repeated requests to be part of the cast.

But, in recent months, Harper has reportedly been feeling so much better — and, as she told People magazine earlier this month, her brain scans have shown so much “less evidence of cancer” — that she decided to take ABC up on its offer to participate.

While the general reaction to Harper’s “DWTS” participation has mostly been positive, there have been some fans, and commenters, who worry that Harper may be endangering her newfound health with such a rigorous pursuit.

(“DWTS” participants routinely rehearse several hours daily, and most lose weight during the season.)

There was once a time when cancer patients — especially ones suffering from something as serious as Harper’s leptomeningeal carcinomatosis (a rare form of cancer in which malignant cells spread into the membrane surrounding the brain) were instructed to rest as much as possible to preserve their ability to battle the disease.

But, in the last decade or two, attitudes have shifted.

In fact, the American Cancer Society actually encourages cancer patients to be as physically active as possible under the right circumstances, stating: “Newer research has shown that exercise is not only safe and possible during cancer treatment, but it can improve how well you function physically and your quality of life.”

According to People magazine, Harper will slightly alter her drug regimen to accommodate filming and rehearsals.

Harper now gets a weekly dosage that her husband, Tony Cacciotti, says knocks her out of commission for a day or so. Therefore, she’ll receive her treatment after every performance Monday nights, then resume rehearsals Wednesday afternoons.

Considering how potentially inspiring Harper’s turn on “DWTS” could be for millions of cancer patients and their loved ones, it’s no stretch to say she’s the most important contestant the show has ever had.

America, don’t you dare vote her off!

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