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.
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.
those articles make me cringe and the word that gets me usually is
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.