Video: Richard Cohen and wife Meredith Vieira

updated 6/11/2004 11:05:50 AM ET 2004-06-11T15:05:50

Cohen and Vieira were guests on Thursday's 'Deborah Norville Tonight.'

"Welcome to my world," writes Cohen, "where I carry around dreams, a few diseases, and the determination to live life my way. This book is my daily conversation with myself, a chronicle of the struggles in that exotic place just north of the neck. At the moment, my attitude checks out well. I do believe I'm winning."

Autobiographical at its roots, reportorial, and expansive, Blindsided explores the effects of illness on raising three children and on his relationship with his wife, Meredith Vieira (host of ABC's The View and the syndicated Who Wants To Be A Millionaire).

Harper Collins
Illness came calling when Richard M. Cohen was twenty-five years old. He was a young television news producer with expectations of a limitless future, and his foreboding that his health was not quite right turned into the harsh reality— he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For thirty years Cohen has done battle with MS, only to be ambushed by two bouts of colon cancer at the end of the millennium. And yet, he has writ-ten a hopeful book about celebrating life and coping with chronic illness.  Cohen tackles the nature of denial and resilience, the ins and outs of the struggle for emotional health, and the redemptive effects of a loving family.

Read an excerpt of Cohen's book, below.

Chapter One: A Dream and a Diagnosis

Perhaps I should have seen the ambush coming while I was in college. Warnings came in the darkness of restless nights. There was a foreboding, the uneasy feeling that followed a recurring dream that always unsettled me. Those late-night movies would follow me wherever I traveled and laid my head for the night. They were still playing long after the diploma was in my hand and I had hit the road.

In these dramas, I would be vying fiercely on a basketball court or football field, playing a high-pressure, exquisitely rough game. Always, there was a clock loudly ticking. The action would provide amusement for a while, but as the score got closer and time grew shorter, the pressure became intense. Even in my sleep, I began to sweat. The contest took on a fierceness that was threatening.

My legs became rubbery. Losing strength, they began to buckle. In the final minutes, with the crowd on its feet and the screaming deafening, I would fall to the floor, ball in hand, no longer able to stand, let alone engage in athletic combat. The team would lose by a single point. The dream was unnerving, and even as it recurred, I did not know what meaning to attach.

More upsetting was the same theme played out in a more threatening, intense arena with my life at stake. This dream was staged on the field of battle, and it came all too frequently. I would be running hard, sweating and breathing wildly. Again, my legs gave out and folded beneath me, leaving me powerless to protect myself from an enemy about to strike a lethal blow. I hyperventilated my way through battle, uncertain that I would survive and always in that fevered state of panic.

Considerable time was spent mulling over these dreams. America was fighting in Vietnam, and I assumed the two dreams reflected my fears of that war. But introspection was not my specialty in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Politics was, and soon journalism would be my calling. I had chosen Simpson College, a progressive school outside Des Moines, Iowa, as my venue for an education. Simpson was far from home. I needed distance. I was a rebellious middleclass kid from West Hartford, a Connecticut Yankee celebrating the culture of my time and courting all the political conflict a person could handle.

My training as a troublemaker had begun in high school. By graduation, I could have taught the course. I had my early indication that I was temperamentally suited for the future work I would do. In the summer of my junior year in high school, my friends and I broke into the recently abandoned Connecticut State Prison, a medieval fortress at Wethersfield, and stole the ancient electric chair. I thought it was a moment of high meaning. My father saw it as a stupid prank that could not be tolerated. The chair was returned the next day. I have yet to forgive him.

I had been thrown off athletic teams and suspended from school. Getting ejected from class was as routine as eating lunch. Other parents were quietly telling their teenage children to stay away from me. I was such an outcast, a ne’er-do-well on my way to forging a feisty, anti-everything identity, that a career in journalism seemed a logical choice. I certainly did not see myself in the olive uniform that was fast becoming the dress of the day.

The anti-Vietnam War movement consumed me early in college, and I joined the famous “kiddy-crusade,” that vast squadron of activists campaigning in 1968 to nominate Senator Eugene McCarthy as the Democratic presidential candidate. Along with my peers, I went “Clean for Gene,” my hair respectably cut and beard gone as we sought to dump Lyndon Johnson. I spent the summer in the Southwest and at the riotous Democratic National Convention in Chicago. A lot of us learned at a tender age important lessons about power and politics and the workings of the world that year. I was twenty, and what I took away was the value of perseverance and how to become resourceful, qualities that would rescue me from invisible enemies for the rest of my life. Formative years do write a teaching plan for living. Mine included a toughness that has served me well ever since.

I had been included in the first selective service lottery to determine who would be forced to go to war in Southeast Asia. I watched the dreaded drawing on my ancient black-and-white television. That game of televised roulette was a defining moment for every man in my generation. The lottery was over for me before it ever really started. I trembled as I heard February 14, my birthday, read out and repeated, over and over. It was number 4. That low number guaranteed me a free uniform and at least a one-way ticket to the faraway fight.

I considered going to jail or even to Canada to avoid a war I deeply opposed. Instead I took the easy way out. I escaped the draft and military service with middle-class privilege and a friendly physician’s exaggerated diagnosis of a serious neurological condition.

The deception pained me. Presumably, someone drew a higher lottery number and a ticket to terror in Asia instead of me. I did what I thought I had to. I was struggling to survive. We all were, but I was not proud.

I stayed in school and kept working to spread dissent. In 1969, I crossed paths with Peter Jennings, who was then reporting on antiwar activities for ABC radio. I and some of my friends glued ourselves to him for a few days, eating and drinking and talking about politics. Peter had covered the conflict in Vietnam and was willing to talk openly about his life as long as we left the marijuana home. He was passionate about journalism, and I began to rethink my future. That is what I want to do, I thought ...

The foregoing is excerpted from Blindsided by Richard Cohen. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd ST., NY. NY. 10022.


Discussion comments