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November 12, 2004 - Image 82

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-11-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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W

hen broadcast journalist
Richard Cohen went on his
first serious date with fellow
CBS reporter Meredith Vieira in 1983,
he decided the time had come to tell her
his bad eyesight was more than just gar-
den-variety astigmatism.
Cohen had been diagnosed with mul-
tiple sclerosis 10 years earlier, when he
was just 25 years old. Since then, he'd
earned a master's degree from Columbia
School of Journalism, worked as a pro-
ducer on Public Broadcasting's The
MacNeil/Lehrer Report and on the CBS
Evening News with Walter Cronkite, gone
to Poland to cover the birth of the
Solidarity movement and reported from
the scene of armed conflicts in Beirut
and El Salvador.
The debilitating neurological disease
had chipped away at his eyesight until
he was close to legally blind. He had suf-
fered intermittent attacks on his balance,
strength, physical and mental equilibri-
um.
Yet he had persevered, and most of his
colleagues had no idea of his illness.
"Do you know what MS means," he
remembers asking Vieira as the couple
sat in the restaurant deciding whether or
not to have dessert.
"Yes. It's a magazine, Rich," she
answered.
-
"Such scenes had been played out
before," Cohen writes in his no-holds-
barred memoir Blindsided• Lif-ting A Life
Above Illness (Harper/Collins; $23.95).•
"One woman might as well have been
told her pants were on fire," he contin-
ues. "She stopped dead in her amorous
tracks, scanning the room for a fire exit."
Not Vieira.
"Meredith did not flinch or show any
discomfort," he writes. "She looked me
in the eye and asked questions for
which, of course, there were no answers.
There were pauses and stares into the
distance."
"I don't care,' she finally said."

From Denial To Coping

Cohen, Book Fair's closing night speak-
er, will be at the West Bloomfield Jewish

Community Center Sunday evening,
Nov. 14, speaking about his career, his
18-year marriage to Vieira and, above
all, his 30-plus years of doing battle with
multiple sclerosis.
"I'm fine. Really," Cohen said in a
recent interview with the Jewish News.
"This disease just becomes a part of
who you are. You become used to the
decrease in mobility, to being careful
how much you take on yourself and
what you do.
A chronic, debilitating neurological
disease, MS creates inflammation of the
nerve cells and destroys the nerve cells'
protective layer, known as myelin. The
disease, which is incurable, affects people
with differing severity and in different
ways. People with MS can have difficul-
ty walking, numbness, pain and loss of
vision. Some of these symptoms are
transitory and others persist.
Today, Cohen's disease is a matter of
public record. Even before the publica-
tion of Blindsided last April, he had writ-
ten numerous articles for MS journals,
the New York Times and other publica-
tions. Vieira, co-host of ABC television's
The View and host of the daytime ver-
sion of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,
speaks frequently about the illness and
its effects on her family. The couple
actively support the National Multiple
Sclerosis Society, with Richard produc-
ing a monthly webcast that features MS
specialists and researchers and Meredith
serving on the board of the New York
City chapter.
However, owning up to his illness and
its limitations took Cohen more than 20
years. And he's not sorry.
"I seem to have viscerally and quite
accidentally stumbled upon a coping
mechanism of some value," he writes.
The mechanism: denial. For years,
Cohen continued taking grueling assign-
ments. He hiked in the summer heat
and continued taking subways. He told
very few people of his illness.
"For me, denial has been the linchpin
of the determination to cope and to
hope," he writes. "Denial allows any
individual with a problem to invent his
or her personal reality and to move for-
ward with life in the belief that he or she
is in control and can do what needs to

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