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

In Sickness and in Health continued...

Laughter, too, is part of her healthy living strategy. "Humor has also gotten us through some tough times," she says. "When Richard's cancer came back, we were sitting in the kitchen around Thanksgiving time. Richard asked the kids if they had any questions, and Gabe jokingly asked, 'Will I still get my Christmas presents?'"

Jokes aside, she is not made of steel, or so Cohen writes in his bestselling autobiography Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness. Calling her the "glue" of the family, he writes, "Meredith has her emotional threshold. The tears are tempered with strength, however. Meredith can be one tough broad."

Vieira also makes time for prevention. Her hectic schedule can make it hard to undergo the screening tests required for women in her age group, but "I have nagging doctors, and they are really great."

She monitors her bone mass and takes a drug to boost bone health, as well as daily supplements of calcium and vitamin D. "I am into weight training," she says but admits that having mammograms or breast X-rays takes some extra nudging, as she is fearful due to her family history.

Caregiving and family support

Being and staying the healthy parent in a family is not easy, points out Betty Ferrell, PhD, RN, a research scientist specializing in caregiving at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif. "There is the emotional stress of watching someone you love get weaker every day." The healthy partner often needs emotional support, she says.

In the United States, more than 50 million people care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aging family member or friend each year, according to the National Family Caregivers Association in Kensington, Md.

But Vieira doesn't see herself as a caregiver in the classic sense of the word. "It's a two-way street," she says. "When he needs support, it's there -- just like when I need his support, it's there"

We Are Family

"We lean on each other as a family," she says, and "we have an incredibly strong bond with a core group of people with whom I don't have to say a lot. Yet they know when things are bad, when to hold my hand, when to step away, and when to move in."

She only reluctantly sees herself as a caregiver, because Cohen is extremely independent -- and not all that comfortable asking for help. "The hardest thing is letting him do things on his own. If it were up to me, I would do more," she says, "I worry when I see him stumbling, and when he tries to cross streets and can't see what I see."

Cohen, however, looks at it this way: "Victim status embodies all that I reject about the struggles of life. The challenge is to live and function well under all circumstances, including those never anticipated, like illness."

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