Valerie Harper’s daughter, Cristina Cacciotti, still has vivid memories of the “Rhoda” actress listening to Little Richard and the Beach Boys while tidying up her house as she played the most important role of her life — that of mom.
“A lot of times, we’d be dancing more than working,” the 36-year-old actress recently told Closer Weekly about growing up with the now-79-year-old star. “My mom was just a person filled with joy.”
Cacciotti revealed in the magazine’s latest issue that she’s now determined to be by her mother’s side no matter what. In July, her father Tony Cacciotti announced that doctors have recommended he put the “Mary Tyler Moore” icon, who has been battling cancer, in hospice care.
“I have been told by doctors to put Val in Hospice care and I can’t [because of our 40 years of shared commitment to each other] and I won’t because of the amazing good deeds she has graced us with while she’s been here on earth,” Cacciotti wrote on Facebook.
“We will continue going forward as long as the powers above allow us, I will do my very best in making Val as comfortable as possible,” he continued. “There are two special ANGELS on this planet masquerading as humans who live and work together, that has made it possible to have all of Val’s needs taken care of.”
Tony, who has been married to Harper since 1987, went on to say: "For those of you who have been in this position, you will totally understand that 'it’s hard letting go.' So as long as I’m able and capable, I’ll be where I belong right beside her."
"Many, many thanks for your outpouring of kindness and support," he concluded.
According to Closer Weekly, Cacciotti admitted her father has been incredibly grief-stricken by Harper’s health battle.
“My mom is the center of his world — from personal to professional,” she explained. “She is his everything… She used to joke that [my dad] should court one of the older ladies at the gym. She didn’t want him to suffer or to be alone.”
And it’s been heartbreaking for Cacciotti too. She recalled receiving a phone call from Harper in February of this year while she was at the hospital. The outlet shared talking was difficult for Harper because she has aphasia, an impairment of the brain’s language function.
“She was trying to communicate, but it was hard,” said a tearful Cacciotti. “She’s my mom and she’s always been my best friend.”
“She said that we should be focused on our lives here and making the best out of any situation,” continued Cacciotti. “She believed that when you pass on you only go somewhere else.”
Harper, who beat lung cancer in 2009, was diagnosed again with a form of brain cancer called leptomeningeal carcinomatosis in 2013. The disease is incurable and she was told at the time she would only have months to live. However, thanks to the medical care she’s been given, the star is still fighting. Unfortunately, the fight comes at a great financial cost.
In July, Harper’s family set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for the rising cost of her battle with the disease. Cacciotti created the page in order to help fund the costs that aren’t covered by insurance.
Harper is best known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s. Her fan-beloved character earned her own spinoff, “Rhoda,” that aired from 1974 to 1978. She would later star in the 1980s sitcom “Valerie” (later titled “Valerie’s Family” and “The Hogan Family”). In addition, she appeared in more than a dozen feature films and won four Emmy Awards.
Back in 2017, Harper told Fox News she’s grateful to have someone like Tony by her side as she fights her illness.
“[This is about] facing a disease that really doesn’t have a good diagnosis,” said Harper at the time. “I happen to have a fabulous caregiver who is my husband, Tony Cacciotti. He’s been taking care of everything. Everything in my life. It’s just the most wonderful thing.”
"In fact, my husband doesn’t let me go anywhere alone. He drives me everywhere. He’s incredible," she said.
Harper can still vividly recall that moment when she received the shocking diagnosis.
"[The doctor] said, ‘You know, I hate to tell you this, but this disease that you now have — it’s not the brain. It’s the lining of the brain,’” explained Harper. “‘This is very difficult. There’s no cure. We don’t have a pill. We don’t have anything that works really well. We can’t get the medication to hit what you need to hit.’”
At the time, People magazine reported Harper was undergoing chemotherapy to slow down the disease’s progression. She credited a loving support system, along with Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, and even trying acupuncture, with helping her enjoy life. Harper was also eager about immunotherapy, which boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer.
“People are saying, ‘She’s on her way to death and quickly,’” said Harper. “Now it’s five years instead of three months… And the thing is, everyone is going to die in one way or another. So why don’t you fight it? I’m going to fight this. I’m going to see a way.”
Looking back at her career, Harper stressed she had zero regrets pursuing her dream.
“I’ve had a wonderful career,” she stressed. “I got to be an actress. I was a dancer. And then I grew into this area of acting that was just so wonderful.”
Fox News’ Mariah Haas and Tyler McCarthy contributed to this report.