Veteran journalist Richard Cohen has a strong family history of multiple sclerosis, but he says he was in “denial” when he first started showing signs of the disease.
“My father had MS, as did his mother,” Cohen tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It was already a family illness.”
Cohen was just 25 when he was diagnosed. “I dropped a coffeepot for no reason. I fell off a curb for no reason. I noticed a little numbness in my leg,” he says. “It hit my eyesight fairly quickly, but other than that, I was very active physically and I thought I was really beating it. I was living in denial.”
He met his future wife, television host Meredith Vieira, in 1982, and says the two “went toe to toe” from the start. “I thought two things: ‘What a jerk’ and then my second thought was, ‘I’m going to marry this guy,” Vieira recalls. They’ve now been married for 32 years and have three kids.
Cohen says he had been living with MS for 10 years when he met Vieira, and he told her about his illness soon after they started dating. “I sort of learned the hard way to get it on the table,” he says. “She didn’t blink.”
Otherwise, Cohen says, he kept his diagnosis a secret, although it was hard on him. “A secret sickness is not a happy way to live,” he says. Eventually, Cohen discovered that writing about his MS was “emotionally useful,” and he wrote a book about his experience with MS called Blindsided.
Since then, Cohen has written several more books about living with chronic illness, including Chasing Hope: A Patient’s Deep Dive Into Stem Cells, Faith, and the Future and Strong at the Broken Places: Voices of Illness, a Chorus of Hope.
Cohen says he often tells people who are newly diagnosed with MS that they should understand that they’ll live with their illness for the rest of their life. “You don’t have to be controlled by it,” he says. “I can give you a long list of things that I can’t do anymore. You just sort of learn to accept that. I look at our three kids, I look at our relationship, I’ve written four books … what do I have to complain about?”
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