After given only months to live, the 74-year-old actress tells PEOPLE about her battle against brain cancer

By Wade Rouse and Dahvi Shira
Updated April 16, 2014 12:25 PM
Credit: Rodrigo Vaz/FilmMagic

Valerie Harper’s inspiring battle against terminal brain cancer is looking up.

“My last scans have been positive, and my doctors are very happy,” the Rhoda star, 74, told Closer Weekly. “[The oncologist] looked at the scans and said, ‘Oh my God, Valerie, this is very encouraging.’ ”

Harper, who defied initial predictions that she only had months to live and inspired millions of viewers by appearing on Dancing with the Stars, says her doctor still doesn’t use the term “in remission.”

“He likes to say, ‘I give you a treatment, and it’s either responsive or nonresponsive, and you are having a phenomenal response.”

But that doesn’t mean she’s by any means cured from her illness.

“In response to a recent erroneous quote concerning my health, I am not ‘absolutely cancer-free,’ ” she said in a statement on Wednesday. “I wish I were. Right now what I am is cautiously optimistic about my present condition and I have hope for the future.”

Harper’s ongoing medical treatment includes a “pulse dose” – which involves taking a lot of pills at one time, something Harper admits can be “difficult” – and now seeing her doctor once every eight weeks.

“My cancer is incurable and terminal, but guess what? Not today!” Harper told PEOPLE on Wednesday. “There is all manner of suffering in the world, not all of it by any stretch related just to cancer or to illness, but all kinds of suffering.”

The “best advice” she can offer? “Don’t go to the funeral before it is time. So my time is looking good today and that’s how we are all supposed to live our lives – one day at a time.”

The actress is currently in New York doing press for her episodes of Martha Williamson’s new series for Hallmark Channel, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, which premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. PST.