Memoir details coping with debilitating illness

Sunday, February 29, 2004

The subject of his health was raised on their second date, Richard M. Cohen writes in "Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness: A Reluctant Memoir" (HarperCollins, $23.95).

He met Meredith Vieira in 1982, when both were working as TV journalists for CBS. "What do you know about multiple sclerosis?" he asked. "Do you know what MS means?" She replied: "Yes, it's a magazine, Rich."

Vieira didn't flinch or reveal any discomfort, and her attitude has helped steer their marriage through the choppy waters of his illness, he writes, in a book that's as much about their relationship as it is about MS.

Cohen was diagnosed 30 years ago, when he was 25. The signs had been subtle -- a coffee pot that slipped from his hand, a misstep on a busy street in Washington, where he was working on a PBS documentary series. His father and grandmother both suffered from MS. Still, it caught him off-guard.

By the time he met Vieira, now co-host of ABC's "The View," Cohen's eyesight was seriously impaired. And because MS is progressive, his health was going to worsen. He is now legally blind and must press his face to the computer screen to write. He needs a cane to walk.

He also has endured colon cancer -- twice. Cancer and MS aren't buddies, explains Cohen, as he describes the pain and the feeling of total vulnerability that followed. And anger. And hope.

Cohen worries about the couple's three children. Before the birth of their first son, he and Vieira were told that genetic considerations didn't exist with MS. His wife's history of miscarriages had turned their focus to just delivering a child, and three generations of MS in his family had been gently put aside. "Now the questions have grown large."

He also worries about what his children will remember about living with him after they are grown and gone; that their memory will "zero in on the diminished man I think I have learned to recognize staring out from the mirror."

Still, the fighter inside him lives on, and that's the message that "Blindsided" conveys. There can be no illusions of his health improving, but Cohen concludes: "I do dream of living something better. Constantly."