What's one thing you may not know about Meredith? She works tirelessly on behalf of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of New York, of which she's a board member. Her husband of 24 years, Richard Cohen, suffers from multiple sclerosis, which inspired Meredith to take up the cause and raise awareness of the disease.
Read below for a Q&A about how giving back has changed her as a person and advice she would give to other families affected by the disease.
Q: What made you get involved in the Multiple Sclerosis Society?
Meredith: Well it was my husband, really, Richard. He’s had MS since he was in his early 20’s, so obviously our whole married life. I thought it was important to spread the word about the illness. The more I learned about, I really was uneducated and I thought it was important to inform other people because so many people don’t even understand what MS is. And until it hits your own family there may be no reason for them to really explore the disease and fully comprehend it. So it was a way of passing on knowledge that I’ve learned and also encouraging people to give. There probably won’t be a cure in my husband’s time but you never know. And we would certainly like those coming after him who develop this disease to have more options available to them than he has had.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to be involved in charities that affect people you know?
Meredith: Well the obvious reason is once you’re faced with that kind of challenge in your life, I think it’s important to bond with other people who are in the same position. You realize that you’re really not alone. I think you have a better understanding of the charity, obviously, when it hits close to home. I found in my case that once I got involved with the MS Society I realized we’re not alone. That’s one of the things about disease and disability -- it tends to isolate people and you feel like you’re the only ones. And when you become involved in the work of the charity, you realize that there’s power in numbers and as a group. It makes you feel that there’s hope.
Q: How have you changed as a person because of the work you’ve done for MS?
Meredith: I think, and I feel this even more strongly about my children, I think we’re more empathetic for having experienced illness. I think that I’m a stronger person. It’s not a club you really want to join, but once you’re in it you’re amazed by the other people. There’s so much strength of character and determination in people who face chronic illness like my husband does and that’s infectious, it truly is, in a good way.
Q: To the people who aren’t familiar with MS, what should they know that might encourage them to get involved?
Meredith: Well, it’s an insidious disease. There is no cure at this point. There are certainly treatments but for people like my husband who has secondary progressive, it’s not even clear whether they make a difference at all. So, you know, get involved because it’s your fellow man first of all. But beyond that I would say the majority of people in this country at some point are going to face chronic illness, whatever it is. Maybe it won’t be MS but it’ll be something else. So in a sense we really are all in the same boat. No matter what disease or disability you’re faced with down the line, we’re all going to have that in our lives or the lives of our loved ones.
Q: What advice could you give families who are also affected by disease?
Meredith: I can speak to this disease but it’s probably true with most. I would say reach out. It’s scary when you hold it inside. There are so many people out there willing to help. There are resources, there are websites, there are community groups, and there are things like the MS Society where you can get information and you can get just not intellectual support, but emotional support. And I think that’s as important in dealing with illness on a day-to-day basis because it’s not going to go away, it’s something that you learn to live with.
Interviewed by former NBC intern Andrew Donovan.