Published Apr 28, 2021
It’s been six months since we lost beloved Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek to pancreatic cancer, and now his widow Jean Trebek is sharing some personal stories with all of us. In a clip from an upcoming interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, Jean talked about the overwhelming support her husband received during his brave fight with this difficult cancer.
Jean says that one of the main reasons Trebek was able to beat the odds and fight so bravely during his pancreatic cancer battle was due to all the love and support he received from fans. He was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March 2019, but still hosted the popular trivia game show Jeopardy! right up until his passing in November 2020.
“I think one of the beautiful things, the blessings that came, if you can call it a blessing, is that he got to really see the outpouring of love and admiration that he gave to the world,” Trebek told TODAY. “Some people just, you know, you don’t see that while you’re still embodied, you don’t get to really witness all the love that people feel for you. And I know that that was in and of itself a huge inspiration for Alex.” The full interview will appear Saturday during a primetime special called Inspiring America.
Trebek’s honesty during his cancer battle helped so many people learn more about pancreatic cancer and how to check for symptoms. Helping others was something that Trebek dedicated his whole life to doing, having donated and been a part of a number of charities. To honor his memory, Jean says she’s going to continue helping these charities since it’s what her late husband would have wanted.
The one-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 9% (a fact that Trebek shared during an episode of Jeopardy!) and Trebek beating the odds by passing that milestone inspired so many others that their fights are not over. In addition to discussing symptoms he experienced (which he also shared on the game show and ended up helping a man catch a diagnosis early), he also shared treatments he went through during the process. Initially he went through chemotherapy, but later turned to an experimental therapy which helped save Senator Harry Reid’s life.
In addition to sharing information about pancreatic cancer, he also was extremely honest with his roller coaster of emotions he experienced while going through treatment. During his one-year update, Trebek shared that side-effects to the treatment certainly did get him down many times, and he considered giving up. However, he knew that he had an obligation to fight as hard as possible for his family and friends.
“I’d be lying if I said the journey had been an easy one. There were some good days. But a lot of not-so-good days. I joked with friends that the cancer won’t kill me; the chemo treatments will. There were moments of great pain; days when certain bodily functions no longer functioned, and sudden massive attacks of great depression that made me wonder if it really was worth fighting on,” Trebek had said in a video. “But I brushed that aside quickly because that would have been a massive betrayal. A betrayal of my wife and soulmate, Jean, who has given her all to help me survive.”
Although pancreatic cancer survival rates have been improving for decades, it’s still considered to be one of the most difficult diseases to successfully treat. An exception to this is if the tumor is still small enough and localized enough to be operated on. Most pancreatic cancers are particularly aggressive and progress rapidly, and that’s why it’s so important that it to be caught early. According to the American Cancer Society, 57,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in a year and the five-year survival rate is just 9%.
One of the main reasons the disease is so hard to treat is due to the stroma — a barrier that surrounds the cancer cells and prevents the chemotherapy from breaking through and taking effect to fight the cancer.
“Think of pancreatic cancer as an oatmeal raisin cookie and the raisins are actually the cancer cells, and the cookie part is actually all the stroma around it,” Dr. Allyson Ocean, a medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center, explains to SurvivorNet. “And imagine having to navigate through all that stroma for a treatment to be able to get into a cell to kill it. So that’s why the treatments just really aren’t good enough to penetrate the cancer. But we’re improving, we’re getting better treatments.”