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Meredith Vieira and Richard M. Cohen thrive as parents and partners while managing his chronic disease

By the late 1980s, Cohen acknowledged his worsening disease to friends and coworkers. Some celebrity journalists who got wind of the matter saw a ready-made sob story, painting Vieira as the long-suffering nursemaid to her sickly husband — a "Secret Family Tragedy," to quote one tabloid. In his best-selling 2004 memoir, Blindsided, Cohen calls this story line "Meredith the martyr and Richard the wretched."

So when Vieira, 57, left Today, she pointedly rejected reports that she was leaving to become a full-time caregiver. "There's so much speculation in the press recently [about] 'poor Meredith with her invalid husband,' and I want to set the record straight," she said at the time. "My husband, Richard, is in good health, and that's part of the reason I want to leave right now.… I want to be there with him, and I want to have fun."

True, Cohen is probably feeling as well as he ever will, given that doctors don't yet know how to halt the progression of his MS, let alone repair the nerve damage it has caused. But in the face of his advancing disease, how can Vieira not see herself as a full-time caregiver? The family has no aide to assist Cohen with his daily routine, in which buttoning a shirt can take as long as 40 minutes. ("Having somebody there would drive him crazy, I think," says Vieira. "He hates hovering.") And the youngest of their three children — each of whom grew more able to help their father as his disease progressed — left for college this past September.

The answer, it seems, is through force of will. Both Cohen and Vieira long ago decided that, while chronic illness might affect their life together, it wouldn't define that life. Now, as Vieira starts a part-time gig as a correspondent for the new NBC newsmagazine Rock Center with Brian Williams — and continues her 10th year moonlighting as host of the syndicated game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — they are adjusting to Cohen's increasingly uncooperative body as they have adjusted all along: with a mix of realism and denial.

Richard Cohen has an office in the couple's Tuscan-style home in Irvington, New York, but every day he can manage the trip, he rides the commuter train and subway to his writing studio on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The family could certainly afford a car service, but Cohen prefers normalcy, despite his difficulty seeing and walking. One friend says he can hear "a certain pride" in Cohen's voice when he calls from public transit.

Next: Living with chronic illness. >>

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