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Blindsided—Lifting a Life Above Illness: A Reluctant Memoir (book)


by Richard M. Cohen

Publisher: HarperCollins, 2004


Richard Cohen, a veteran writer, producer and distinguished journalist, has lived with multiple sclerosis for over 25 years. Recently diagnosed again with colon cancer, Cohen describes his lifelong struggle with multiple sclerosis, his first bout with colon cancer, a loving marriage to Meredith Viera, the effect of illness on raising children, and the nature of denial and resilience, all told with grace, humor, and lyrical prose.

Cohen chronicles and celebrates a life brimming over with accomplishment, adversity and personal endeavor and his story has struck a chord with readers nation–wide. He has been interviewed by Barbara Walters for a nearly hour–long segment that ran on 20/20, he also appeared on wife Viera's program, The View, and is scheduled for Charlie Rose, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, and the Paula Zahn Show, among others. Blindsided also received outstanding print attention and People magazine has run a first serial piece.

Autobiographical at its roots, reportorial and expansive, Blindsided builds on Cohen's story as a task aimed at emotional well–being, if not survival, pursued in sober tones that explore coping to its most redemptive and complex levels. Despite his extreme circumstances, Cohen's is a common struggle, recognizable as an integral part of humanity, and one which he explores with varying amounts of diligence, respect, personal revelation and humor.

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Reviewed by Mary O'Driscoll for InsideMS, June 2006

Richard M. Cohen has MS and writes about it with directness, a marvelous recall for detail, and an honesty that exposes the less attractive sides of his personality.

On the path to his chosen profession of journalist, foreign correspondent, and TV news producer, Cohen was hit with a series of symptoms that in hindsight and to those familiar with the disease would almost certainly lead to a diagnosis of MS. He experienced sudden physical awkwardness and weakness, numbness, itching, loss of balance, and vision problems.

His immediate, knee-jerk reaction, once he had more or less accepted the fact of his condition, was that of “understated resolve,” which provided him with a straitjacket for his emotions—and an effective coping device. He uses another coping device as well: denial. This is, he says, “Misused by amateur shrinks. Misjudged by those who just think it is bad. Misunderstood by those who have not thought it through.” Cohen has thought it through and is able to benefit from its positive side. Denial allows him to invent a personal reality, to take control enough “to do what needs to be done to keep going… to test perceived limits… to postpone concessions… there is nothing wrong with that.” Here is a chunk of insight that anyone, ill or not, might consider.

Cohen’s condition worsened over 30 years. In addition, he was struck with two bouts of colon cancer. His philosophy and resolve still help him to live an extraordinary life that has included: marriage and family, a move away from the city, and constant challenges and readjustments to his reality. Early in the book, Cohen remarks, “Chronic illness occupies a lowly position in the hierarchy of suffering, but it takes a toll.” His book illustrates the toll on himself, his wife, and their children. MS reorders everyone’s priorities, but living with the disease can also—as Cohen’s book clearly illustrates—give one courage and insight.

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