“If anyone deserves a standing ovation, it’s Alex Trebek!”
This was the caption that the official “NHL GIFs” Twitter account, which has over 98,700 followers, included with a tweeted video of an animated crowd applauding 78-year-old “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek during the National Hockey League (NHL) Awards show in Las Vegas.
READ MORE— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) June 20, 2019
Trebek, who announced earlier this spring that he had been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer—a notoriously difficult cancer to treat—has kept the public informed about general aspects of his cancer journey, including the fact that his cancer is responding well to treatment.
But last night’s awards show marked one of the first times Trebek had actually appeared in public in the months since announcing his diagnosis—and the standing ovation he received reflected the widespread support for the beloved host.
— #VGKWarmiesGuy – Christopher Green (@SharkyGreen) June 20, 2019
Trebek, who attended the NHL Awards show to present the Hart Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s most valuable player, to Nikita Kucherov from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Mad Men” star Jon Hamm gave an emotional introduction to Trebek.
“I would like to introduce you all to one of the biggest hockey fans in the world,” Hamm told the crowd. “And he happens to be going through one of the toughest fights there is.”
Trebek’s appearance at the awards show comes after the 32-game-streak “Jeopardy!” winner, James “Jeopardy! James” Holzhauer, donated a portion of his “Jeopardy!” winnings to pancreatic cancer research in Trebek’s name.
Following Hamm’s introduction, Trebek walked onto the stage with a wide smile—and every member of the thousands-strong crowd rose to their feet to applaud him.
“Thanks to the hockey world for all your support,” Trebek, who grew up in Ontario, responded to the applause. “Growing up in Canada, you realize very early on that hockey is in your DNA.”
Hockey isn’t the only thing Trebek has “in his DNA,” though. Last month, the star shared that his pancreatic cancer has a specific genetic mutation that could make it respond well to immunotherapy (a treatment that empowers the body’s own immune system to fight off its cancer) once his course of chemotherapy reduces the cancer first.
“I had my last chemo end of last week, and I go in for a PET scan day after tomorrow, and then we’ll have a better idea of where things stand,” Trebek said in an interview with The National in mid-May. “If we’ve managed to get rid of some of the tumors, then it’ll be great, and then I can go to immunotherapy, because they’ve discovered that my cancer is a specific mutation that responds well to certain kinds of immunotherapy.”
After the PET scan, Trebek told People that his chemotherapy had dramatically reduced his pancreatic cancer tumors.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling,” he said. “The doctors said they hadn’t seen this kind of positive result in their memory…some of the tumors have already shrunk by more than 50 percent.”
The announcement was “mind-boggling” because it stood at odds with the usual response for stage IV pancreatic cancer—a cancer that has only a nine percent five-year survival rate.
Tumors in the pancreas are especially challenging to treat because they are covered in a difficult-to-penetrate tissue called a “stroma” that forms a barrier around the tumor, making it difficult for chemotherapy drugs or radiation particles to enter and kill the tumor.
Dr. Allyson Ocean, Medical Oncologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center, also told SurvivorNet in a previous conversation that the prognosis for pancreatic cancer is usually worse because it is tough to detect the disease in its early stages.
Of course, it’s important to remember that tumors shrinking does not necessarily mean “cure,” and Trebek has not shared further specifics about his treatment.
But fans shared on social media last night that Trebek was “doing well” at the NHL Awards show, and the star’s always-upbeat attitude showed as he smiled for selfies with fans and gave a “thumbs up” on stage.
— Jason Dinant KTNV (@JasonDinant) June 19, 2019
Trebek told People that he believes the positivity may be helping with his cancer, too—not just the chemo.
“I’ve got a couple million people out there who have expressed their good thoughts, their positive energy directed towards me and their prayers,” he said. “I told the doctors, this has to be more than just the chemo, and they agreed it could very well be an important part of this.”