Honoring the Trebeks
- The late Alex Trebek and his wife Jean, 56, were honored at NBC’s Inspiring America special. During the special, Jean spoke to Savannah Guthrie about Alex’s impact on the cancer community.
- Trebek told “Jeopardy!” viewers in March 2019 that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer; through his openness during his cancer battle, he was able to raise awareness around this disease.
- Losing a spouse to cancer is a difficult process; support from family, friends, and therapy can help.
During NBC’s Inspiring America special Saturday, Trebek’s widow, Jean, shared a story with host Savannah Guthrie about how Alex empowered a former Jeopardy! contestant during his recent cancer fight.Read More
In an interview from his hospital bed prior to a stem cell transplant, Idalski shared the impact of Trebek’s brave cancer fight on his own. “Alex inspired me by the way he dealt with his cancer. There were so many times when he must’ve been so sick but he never let on, never missed a step,” Idalski said. “He taught me, you don’t like something change it, if you can’t change it then change your attitude.”
Idalski is currently in remission.
“One of Alex’s gifts was that he could be very resolute and know that the truth will not hurt you,” Jean said. “He wanted to empower people to move thru whatever challenge they had in life with a sense of inner strength, inner dignity and love.”
The Trebeks were honored during the special along with other inspiring people including actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, chef Jose Andres and NBA coach Becky Hammon.
The Trebeks have had a profound impact on the pancreatic cancer community, providing hope, comfort and education. Through his public battle with pancreatic cancer, Trebek created “The Trebek Effect,” an increased number of people seeking information about this disease. The Trebeks also recently funded the Hope of the Valley Trebek Center, a 106-bed bridge housing building for people experiencing homelessness.
During the special, Jean recalled the moment Alex decided he wanted to live a life helping others. It was during a visit to Ethiopia when a young woman was so desperate she offered Alex her infant in hopes of securing the child a better life.
“That moment, meeting that woman he was like ‘wow’ and then you’re left with ‘what more could I do?'” Jean recalls.
Alex’s Pancreatic Cancer Journey
Trebek told viewers in March 2019 that he had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Trebek underwent chemotherapy to treat his disease and he passed away from it in November 2020 at age 80. Pancreatic cancer is typically treated through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Dr. Anirban Maitra, the co-leader of the Pancreatic Cancer Moon Shot at MD Anderson Cancer Center, explains in an earlier interview how and where this disease begins, and the need for early detection. “So the pancreas is an organ in your belly. And this is where pancreatic cancer arises,” says Dr. Maitra. “Because the pancreas is inside the abdomen, it often doesn’t have symptoms that would tell you that something is wrong with your pancreas.”
“By the time individuals walk into the clinic with symptoms like jaundice, weight loss, back pain, or diabetes, it’s often very late in the stage of the disease. Each year in the United States, about 53,000 patients get pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Maitra. “And unfortunately, most will die from this disease within a few months to a year or so from the diagnosis. And the reason for that is that most individuals, about 80%, will actually present with what we called advanced disease, which means that the cancer has either spread beyond the pancreas or into other organs like the liver, and so you cannot take it out with surgeries.”
Coping with the Loss of a Spouse to Cancer
Losing a spouse to cancer, as Jean Trebek has, can be devastating. Guthrie asked Jean how she was doing at the beginning of the interview: “Right now talking with you I’m good,” Jean said. “I absolutely have moments of waves of grief that come over me. I miss him a lot.” Many people find that leaning on friends and family during this difficult time can help. Others find therapy to be a helpful additional component to coping with grief.
In an earlier interview, Camila Legaspi shared her experience in therapy after losing her mom to cancer. She says, “Therapy saved my life. I was dealing with some really intense anxiety and depression at that point. It just changed my life, because I was so drained by all the negativity that was going on.”
“Going to a therapist helped me realize that there was still so much out there for me, that I still had my family, that I still had my siblings,” says Legaspi. “The reality is, is when you lose someone, it’s really, really, really hard. And it’s totally OK to talk to someone. And I’m so happy that I talked to my therapist. Keep your chin up, and it’s going to be OK. No matter what happens, it’s going to be OK.”