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Richard Cohen

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Richard Cohen

Many people in the MS movement came to know Richard M. Cohen through his 2004 bestseller, Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness: A Reluctant Memoir.

In 2008 the Emmy- and Peabody-winning TV news producer turned author followed up with Strong at the Broken Places: Voices of Illness, a Chorus of Hope. Having written so eloquently of his own life with MS and cancer, this time his mission was to give voice to others with chronic illnesses who — he and they felt — were not being adequately heard.

People like Ben Cumbo, a college student with Duchenne muscular dystrophy whose family was surprised to learn that disability plays a greater role in his self-identity than being African-American. And Larry Fricks, who has bipolar disorder and knows that only a few years ago the treatment for his condition would have been, in effect, imprisonment and torture.

Amidst the five profiles, Cohen offers what he calls reflections: lessons he draws from his interviews and wants to share. “The ‘what ifs’ and ‘one days’ disappear in pursuit of the now, and life has new meaning,” he writes in one. In another: “What has been taken from any victim of crushing illness will not be returned.”

A companion Web site, strongatthebrokenplaces.com, has become a meeting place for people with all sorts of chronic illnesses, and caregivers, to swap encouragement and advice. One woman went online to see if anyone else has experienced Crohn’s Disease and bipolar disorder simultaneously, like her son. Another started a discussion about her husband leaving her after her diagnosis — a phenomenon that seems disturbingly common.

“Surround yourself with positive loving people that support your will to survive,” Buzz Bay, one of the subjects of the book, replied.

The “Meredith” whom Cohen frequently acknowledges in his writing is TV personality Meredith Vieira, his wife. One of the most thrilling aspects of Blindsided is that our hero gets the girl after she learns about his MS. Their life together is not easy, but it is an inspiration for everybody who believes illness is no match for the strength people can give each other.

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