Who Will Replace Meredith Vieira in Cancer Fight?

Jeanne Sager

Meredith VieiraMeredith Vieira just added to the list of things her professional life has in common with that of Katie Couric. She's leaving her five-year-old Today Show anchor job -- one she took over from Couric in 2006 -- just as Couric is leaving HER five-year-old gig at CBS. But it's how the two women's personal lives intersect that has made their professional lives so similar.

As Vieira leaves the morning show spotlight, it's to spend more time with her family. That includes husband Richard Cohen, who has spent years battling both multiple sclerosis and colon cancer. And yes, the latter is a disease made famous by none other than Katie Couric.

After losing husband Jay Monahan to colorectal cancer in 1998, Couric began a crusade that included lying down in a doctor's office and enduring a colonoscopy on live television. She helped launch the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance. She saw colonoscopy testing rates in the United States jump by 20 percent, something that the scientific field has credited to Couric herself, naming the prominence of colon cancer in the national mindset "The Couric Effect." The reach of Today is THAT big. The effect of awareness campaigns THAT good.

As Susan G. Komen Foundation founder Nancy Brinker once told The Stir, there's never "too much awareness" about cancer. America needed Couric on Today to start the fight against one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

On the other hand, there are Cohen and Vieira, who have become increasingly open about their own family's health struggles, and in turn had an effect on America. Cohen battled and beat colon cancer twice in the '90s. He published a book, Blindsided, on dealing with both the chronic -- multiple sclerosis -- and the potentially life threatening -- the cancer. She's made it a point to support health causes, especially cancer causes as the curious creature known as the journalist celebrity (as opposed to the celebrity journalist -- quite different). Vieira has kept a conversation started by Couric going.

Americans needed Vieira on Today to keep us fighting.

And now she's leaving, off to be close to her family, handing over the reigns to Ann Curry as anchor. Cohen is, for all intents and purposes, cured of colon cancer. If you reach the five-year point without a recurrence, the doctors give you a clean bill of health. Vieira's departure from Today has more to do with her husband's multiple sclerosis and with their three sons, who are aging out of childhood quickly.

But for five years, where we saw Vieira, we thought "wife of cancer survivor, cancer cause champion." Losing her isn't just a blow to folks who loved to see her on TV in the morning. It's a blow to a cause that depends on awareness to save lives, to encourage people to undergo the icky colonoscopy that can reduce a person's risk of dying of colorectal cancer by as much as 90 percent.

So how about skipping the moaning and groaning about not hearing Vieira over your morning coffee today. Read up on the symptoms of colorectal cancer and schedule your own colonoscopy or call the Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance and see what you can do to help. Until Couric and Vieira make their next moves, the cancer cause needs you.


Image via jakeprzespro/Flickr

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