Does Valerie Harper Have an Edge on ‘Dancing With the Stars?’

The ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ Alum Has Two Important Things in Her Favor as She Takes on the ‘DWTS’ Ballroom

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Does Valerie Harper Have an Edge on ‘Dancing With the Stars?’
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(Valerie Harper)

At first glance, she seems to be a highly unlikely contestant. Actress Valerie Harper, 74, is battling terminal cancer and, earlier this year was given only a few months to live, but now she's signed on to compete on the 17th season of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."

The rehearsals are rigorous and the competition is fierce, with popular youngsters like Corbin Bleu and Amber Riley in the mix. But could the former "Rhoda" star be the one to beat this season?

Harper has two important things in her favor. The actress is a former professional dancer -- a resume credit that not all of her competitors boast. Not only that, but she'll likely capture the baby boomer vote when it comes time for viewers to have their say.

The television veteran recently told ABC News that it was her husband who pushed her to just say "yes" to "DWTS" this season. (Apparently she's turned the show down in the past.)

"He said, 'You got to do it,'" she revealed, "I said, "Never! I'm too heavy, look at these girls, they are in fabulous shape.' But he pushed every button he could. He said, 'You do it 'cause you have cancer. Just to let people know they can do it too."

She added, "I was a professional dancer 40 years ago. I didn't want to go out there and be fat and be inadequate, but I have cancer, so it behooves me to go out there."

Harper is using the "DWTS" regimen to appease her doctors, too. "The doctors want me to exercise!" she said. "I asked, 'What do you think?' They said, 'Fine, if you feel like it and you think you can, go for it.'"

The actress is even rearranging her cancer treatment schedule to accommodate her "DWTS" performances, ataxic that will cost her valuable rehearsal time, but could pay off in the long run. Her husband, Tony Cacciotti, told People she'll skip the powerful cancer meds she takes until after the live show each week.

"After she takes it, she doesn't feel good for about a day and a half," he said. "So right after the show on Monday nights, she'll take it and then take a break from practices until Wednesday afternoons."

Meanwhile, Harper's pro partner, Tristan MacManus, is slamming naysayers who are accusing the popular ABC dancing competition of exploiting Harper for ratings. He told Fox News 411, "Valerie has a message and it's not just for sick people, it's for everybody. You only get one life, so live it. If you don't like it, change it and if you do like it always strive to make it better."

He also touched on why his celeb partner said "no" to the show in the past: "Maybe she was too uncomfortable with her body or maybe her ego wouldn't let her forget that once she was a good dancer and now maybe not so much," he said. "When somebody has a very high opinion of you or sees you as a 'star' why jeopardize that by not being good at something now at this stage? We are hardly kick-starting a career here."

"Dancing with the Stars" Season 17 premieres on September 16 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

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