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Stronger Together

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

Anger is a natural reaction, if sometimes an irrational one. "People feel oddly responsible for their illnesses," says Cohen. "It makes no sense, but I sometimes blame myself because I'm sick." Expressing that anger is one way he copes. But he's careful these days to avoid lashing out at others. It wasn't always that way. Particularly during recuperation from cancer surgery in 2000, Cohen's temper threatened to break the family apart. "He began to isolate himself," Vieira told Charlie Rose in a 2004 interview. "One minute he would be quiet, and the next minute he would blow up." She decided to call Cohen on his behavior. "After cutting him a lot of slack, I thought, 'Now you are going after everything that I care about, and I'm going to fight back. [I told him] you're not in this alone. We're all in this boat, and it's really scary, and you are rocking it even more.'… As selfish as I felt at the moment of saying it — because he is the one that's suffering — I think it was the right thing to do in order to help heal us as a family."

Even as MS limits him, Cohen leavens his anger with humor. Says Vieira: "He has very bad days. He's so funny; he'll say, 'I'm in control. I hate my life, but I'm in control.' It's good that he vents. He's having a shitty day, and what is he going to do, pretend that he's not? But then he'll soldier on."

Friend Doucette says Cohen handles his illness the way he handles the rest of his life. "He focuses on what he can control, and that's where he puts his attention," she says. Medically, that means trying every promising treatment, even though none have been shown to help his form of MS. Along with interferon and other mainstream drugs, Cohen has tried experimental treatments such as chemotherapy, as well as alternative treatments including low-intensity laser therapy. "I don't believe in any of this stuff," he says. "But I do it because I don't want to ever look back and regret that I didn't try something. Or try everything."

Doucette adds that Cohen's attitude will stand him in good stead as he ages. "I'm Richard's age, and all of our friends are having something to deal with," she says. "How we approach life is going to determine how we all manage aging, whether we have debilitating conditions or not."

Last June wasn't the first time Meredith Vieira gave up a plum job to make time for her family. In 1991 her career became an early flashpoint in the mommy wars when she left her reporting gig at 60 Minutes rather than work full-time after Gabe's birth. Some feminists accused Vieira of setting back the cause of working mothers. At one party, she recalls, "this woman cornered me and said, 'How can you do that? You are the face of having it all.' "

Next: The importance of teamwork. >>

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