American Author Ernest Hemingway aboard his Ya...

Ernest Hemingway

Richard M. Cohen, former CBS Senior News Producer and three-time Emmy Award winner, was diagnosed with colon cancer after a routine colonoscopy showed polyps that turned out to be malignant in 1999.

The cancer recurred almost a year later, after surgery, and after his doctor had declared him cancer-free. The surgery was repeated. He wrote the book detailing this journey in 2004.

Cohen, you may also know of his wife, Meredith Vierira, a long-time host on the talk show, The View, contracted cancer in his 50s, after having fought back Multiple Sclerosis (MS) since the age of 25.

How Did Cohen Come to Write His Memoir?

He decided to write Blindsided: A Reluctant Memoir as a journalistic exercise in reporting on MS. He found himself writing, instead, a personal memoir about his experience with the twin attacks of MS and cancer.

Cohen focuses on the strategies he used to cope with the mental anguish of, first, a degenerative and debilitating disease, then a double dose of cancer.

Cope and hope was his primary strategy, with additional strategies that included conversations with his father, who also had MS, resurfacing memories of his grandmother, who had made a point of living a full life, aggressively distancing herself from a potentially grim outcome, and, finally, taking control of his rehabilitation from the effects of the second colon surgery.

How Did Cohen Cope with His Dual Diagnosis?

Cohen’s approach is summed up in several quotes from the book:

  • “The psychological war with illness is fought on two fronts, on the battlefield of the mind and in the depths of the heart. Emotional strength must be learned. I am a better person for that struggle. Attitude is a weapon of choice, endlessly worked.”
  • “Self pity is a poison. There is no time.”
  • “Coping must be relearned every day. Adjusting is not taught at any famous university and will never be advertised on a matchbook cover.”
  • “Denial has been the linchpin of the determination to cope and to hope. Denial allows any individual with a problem to invent his or her personal reality and to move forward with life in the belief that he or she is in control and can do what needs to be done to keep going. Denial encourages anyone to test perceived limits and, as a consequence, to postpone concessions.”
  • “Shouting in anger was pointless; moaning and groaning a waste of time. Life is not fair. There is no one to sue.”
  • “Coping is quiet. There is no fanfare, no confetti. There are no parades. Just a quiet task aimed at emotional well-being, if not survival, pursued in subdued and sober tones and spoken in whispers, not shouts.”
  • “Multiple sclerosis and cancer have proved to be tools of personal growth. Let me be clear. I would trade sickness for, say, a used car anytime. But I think back many years ago to the tired old tennis racquet, flung far in frustration because I did not have my way on the court. How immature I was, how grounded in the moment. I choose battles more selectively now.”
  • “We all benefit from greater sensitivity toward others. I learned that lesson long ago and the hard way, to be sure. Disease adds dimension to a person, depth to the soul.”
  • “We all need to appreciate ourselves for what we are and stop whining about what we are not.”
  • “I was taking personal responsibility and that felt great.

You Are Not Alone

Cohen learned, after his book was published, that there was a community among the 90 million who suffer from chronic illnesses that had been waiting for someone to articulate their daily reality.

He chose five of them to profile for his next book, one of them with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The title for this next book came from a quote at the end of his first book:

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.”

-Ernest Hemingway

If you would like to read either or both of Cohen’s books, order them through amazon.com by clicking on the book titles below:

Blindsided: A Reluctant Memoir, (2004) Richard M. Cohen

Strong at the Broken Places: Voices of Illness, a Chorus of Hope, (2008) Richard M. Cohen

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