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Meredith Vieira juggles two popular television shows, kids, contractors -- and a husband who has MS.

Living with MS continued...

Cohen's case was not advanced when he and Vieira met, but in recent years he has lost his eyesight and must now use a cane to walk. "Richard's condition is worsening," she says softly. "It's subtle, and I don't often see it, just like I don't see my kids growing, and then I am like, 'How did you get so tall?'"

Plus, she says, "he has the double whammy because of the two bouts of colon cancer [in the late 1990s and early 2000], and his quality of life has diminished from that.

But don't feel sorry for Vieira. "The totality of my life is great," she says. "MS has been good to us. We have met incredible people, and our children are far more empathetic than they would have been otherwise. They are very empathetic because they have seen their dad struggle, fall, and hold a newspaper within an inch of his face to read it."

She recalls a recent incident. "[A few blocks] from home, Richard realized that he couldn't make it. He leaned into a wall, then [phoned] to say, 'Come and get me.'" Vieira and Ben met him right away. "I can't tell you how impressed I was with how Ben handled his dad," she says. "He knew exactly how to support his father physically and not to draw attention to it. It was quite a thing to see."

It was Ben who at age 6 or 7 once candidly asked his mother whether he would end up like his father.

"I had to make a decision about whether to tell him [about his father's illness] or not, so I said, 'Let me tell you a little about what's going on with Dad. It's an illness, and there are ways to help it. It affects his legs and his eyesight, and there is no reason for you to think that you will end up like him.'

"Kids are so intuitive. The best thing is to be as upfront with them as possible," she says. "You want to protect them, but it's better to live in a certain reality. You want to level with your children, not scare them with the worst-case scenarios. When Richard got cancer we told them immediately. I am not big on sugarcoating things. We try to be honest about illness. I don't want the kids to see me or their dad as superhuman, or they will think they have to be."

Family Ties

But Ben's question does resonate, she says, since Cohen's father and grandmother both had MS. No firm evidence of a genetic link exists, but studies show that while the overall risk is relatively low, an individual's chances of developing MS increase several-fold if a close family member has it.

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