Harper’s ‘DWTS’ Partner on Cancer-Stricken Actress: ‘She Takes a High Dose of Medication’

"DWTS": Tristan MacManus and Valerie Harper (Photo: ABC)

Terminally ill cancer-stricken TV star Valerie Harper gave an emotional performance of the foxtrot on Monday night’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

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Harper, 74, thrilled fans by getting a score of 21 out of 30 with partner Tristan MacManus. And it was remarkable because the Rhoda star– who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 and later contracted cancer around her brain membranes—was given just three months to live earlier this year.

MacManus, told xfinityTV after the show that she had to stop giving interviews to go take her medication.
“She takes a high dosage of medication,” he said. “With the medication she takes now, it means she has to take it easy tomorrow so whether we rehearse tomorrow is something we have to play by ear at the moment. Generally she’ll take her medication and stay in bed for the next day and then tackle [rehearsal] the next day.”

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Although MacManus said, “She’ s not a frail person,” the veteran pro also admitted he’s had to play everything by ear with Harper’s extraordinary DWTS participation.

“Having lung cancer and cancer on her brain—she doesn’t have people standing behind the corner waiting for something to happen,” MacManus said. “I was a bit afraid—what if something happens that brushes off [her] head? Is that something I have to be worried about? Because with my own ignorance about cancer, I don’t really know.”

Still, he said, “There’s no panic. She’s had cancer for awhile now. She has a lot of doctors who are responsibly treating her with medication which she had to take now.

“Physically, she’s great. She had a bad dodgy knee for a couple of days but that [would be] a challenge for everyone. I just had to be proactive in teaching her a different kind of way. She’s doing all right.”

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MacManus said rehearsals could have been better, but Harper ultimately “cleared her mind and focused on what she was supposed to do and I was really, really happy with it” on performance night.

And, as viewers saw, the dancer let Harper stand alone on the floor to take a solo curtain call in the DWTS ballroom. Audience members gave her a standing ovation.

“I’ve been working for her for a couple of weeks and I can see the effort,” MacManus explained. “I did feel that she needed to know how much she’s appreciated and how much everyone is affected by her situation and scenario.

“I can’t afford to treat Valerie like a cancer victim. It has to be a person dancing, and that’s how I’ll treat it.”

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MacManus thought he could have even given Harper a solo moment halfway through the dance! “I would have let her go on her own and dance the whole routine on her own. There were certain moments where something might go wrong in rehearsal and I remember drilling it into her 50 times—you better not do this wrong, and she did it wrong. But there was one moment in the dance where her head was up and she just [beamed] and that was the moment where I went, ‘you’re good! You’re on your own now. And I want to watch this as much as everyone else.’

“She’s so genuine. I think it’s something very, very special,” MacManus said. “I didn’t want to distract from that by standing beside her.”

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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