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One friend says he can hear "a certain pride" in Cohen's voice when he calls from public transit. In his cream-walled studio overlooking the Hudson River, Cohen writes books and columns on chronic illness, including a column for AARP The Magazine's website. An estimated 133 million Americans have at least one chronic illness, defined as a long-term disease that is usually incurable.And that number will surely climb as the population ages. "It's about 'us.' " Cohen's own health history includes not only MS but two bouts with colon cancer, in 19, which required invasive, lifesaving surgery.But that bravado has sometimes had a downside for Cohen's family, especially early on, he admits.Their eldest child, son Ben, is now 22, but once when he was 3 years old, Cohen's creeping lack of coordination led to a terrifying moment when he accidentally bumped Ben into the gap between a standing commuter train and the station platform, sending the boy tumbling onto the tracks.
"I hear stories about people who want to go out and buy caskets. But there's no point in losing a good today over the chance of a bad tomorrow.
The family has no aide to assist Cohen with his daily routine, in which buttoning a shirt can take as long as 40 minutes.
("Having somebody there would drive him crazy, I think," says Vieira.
"He hates hovering.") And the youngest of their three children — each of whom grew more able to help their father as his disease progressed — left for college this past September. Both Cohen and Vieira long ago decided that, while chronic illness might affect their life together, it wouldn't define that life.
Now, as Vieira starts a part-time gig as a correspondent for the new NBC newsmagazine Rock Center with Brian Williams — and continues her 10th year moonlighting as host of the syndicated game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — they are adjusting to Cohen's increasingly uncooperative body as they have adjusted all along: with a mix of realism and denial.