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MAGAZINE / Mar-Apr 2008 / The Richard Cohen-Meredith Vieira Interview

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The Richard Cohen/Meredith Vieira Interview

A Portrait in Care
(Page 1 of 3)

Richard Cohen/Meredith Vieira Interview Richard M. Cohen is an Emmy award winning television producer and best-selling author. His new book, “Strong at the Broken Places,” tells the intimate stories of five people living with serious chronic illnesses. “Strong at the Broken Places” was born of the desire of many to share their stories in the hope that those who are ill and those who love them will see that they are not alone. Richard and his wife Meredith Vieira, co-host of NBC’’s “Today’” show, sat down with Editor-in-Chief Gary Barg to talk of their lives as parents, professional communicators, and partners in care.

Gary Barg: Why do you think language is so very important to people living with chronic illness, and to their families?

Richard Cohen: Well, I think language is a powerful weapon. People who have chronic illnesses have a constant battle with how people see them. And I always say, when I’m talking to groups, that you’re really fighting on two fronts. You’re not just fighting an illness, you’re fighting public attitudes and public perceptions of the person with the illness, and many times that can be worse than the illness.

Meredith Vieira: I wanted to pick up on what you were saying, Richard, because perception also applies to the people who are with someone who is chronically ill. We have been fighting the perception that I am somehow the, woe is me, burdened selfless martyr. Almost every article starts out referencing that in one way or another when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

GB: Yes, those articles make me cringe and the word that gets me usually is “victim.”

RC: It’s hard enough for people who are dealing with serious illness not to think of themselves as victims. I think that you’re all but giving up when you see yourself as a victim, and then to have people relate to you that way is a psychological burden. It’s hard enough to keep yourself from thinking that, especially when everybody around you seems to want to think it. And I think people who don’t deal with illness imagine that we sit around here all evening wailing and beating our breasts and suffering or something. I’m not suffering. I have a great life. I may be dealing with an illness, I may live with an illness, but I’m not suffering.

GB: How do you keep your communicative partnership going?

RC: The larger issue in a relationship, and it’s so often unspoken, is how do two people continue over years to see each other as whole people when one is severely disabled? How do people who were one thing physically when they got together, when they started going out, when they got married, evolve into something else over the years? How do you see that person the way you used to see that person in terms of being strong, or being attractive or whatever your criteria are? To me, that’s the biggest challenge to a couple.

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