You can imagine, I'm guessing, that every time the words “pancreatic cancer” show up in front of me online, they grab my attention.
Even though pancreatic cancer is rare compared to such cancers as lung, breast and prostate, it has an outsized impact on me and seems to appear in media headlines more frequently than one would guess for its small numbers.
Or maybe it's just my personal heightened awareness and knowledge of how lethal it is.
Whatever, it was a shock early last week to see long-time Jeopardy! host, Alex Trebek, paired in headlines with those dreadful words.
Within a day of the announcement, Trebek had issued a short video statement via YouTube. Here it is with the transcript below:
"Hi everyone, I have some news to share with all of you and it’s in keeping with my longtime policy of being open and transparent with our Jeopardy! fan base. I also wanted to prevent you from reading or hearing some overblown or inaccurate reports regarding my health.
“So therefore, I wanted to be the one to pass along this information. Now, just like 50,000 other people in the United States each year, this week I was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
“Now normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working. And with the love and support of my family and friends and with the help of your prayers also, I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease.
“Truth told, I have to! Because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years! So help me. Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done. Thank you."
Did you note the part about “stage 4”? That means Trebek's cancer has spread to other organs and, like mine, is not curable although chemotherapy and some other treatments can manage symptoms and improve quality of life for awhile.
It feels to me that Alex Trebek has been at the helm of Jeopardy! forever. (Actually, he has been hosting since 1984.) A strong, steady, down-to-earth presence in Americans' lives. How could this happen?
Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive games of Jeopardy!, wrote this about Trebek last week in The New York Times:
”...we all think of Trebek as 'Alex,' that avuncular, Canadian-accented presence who has been in our homes every weeknight for 35 years. Whether we watch it regularly or not, we all rely on Jeopardy! always being there. It’s no longer an entertainment property; it’s an institution.”
So it is. And so is Alex Trebek.
I've watched Jeopardy! off and on pretty much all the years Alex Trebek has been hosting. Sometimes regularly, sometimes as a drop-in, and who can help but play along.
In his video announcement, Trebek invoked the commonly-used fight metaphor about “beating” cancer and I'm sorry he did. It is already exhausting to live with cancer and we should not be urged to use our remaining, precious time fighting the inevitable.
From my point of view, it is the doctors who do the battling; I just follow their instructions and am grateful for the extended life they have given me.
That quibble notwithstanding, it's a good thing that a beloved public figure as Trebek has made his diagnosis public. The small number of pancreatic cancer cases means that it gets little attention and few research dollars compared to the big-time cancers.
Although progress is being made, there still is not a diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer and it is extremely difficult to find before it has reached late-stage development. I was just luckier than many that mine was detected at stage 2.
So perhaps Alex Trebec's well-known public presence will light a fire under some people and some institutions who can afford to fund the research necessary to find a better treatment and even a cure for this terrible cancer.
Meanwhile, I'm sure that all of us and millions of others agree with Claire Sattler, a high-school student who won the 2018 Teen Jeopardy! competition:
“I hope he knows that he does have the whole support of every person who’s been on Jeopardy, every Jeopardy fan, along with his family and friends,” she [told The New York Times]. “Whether he’s around for 20 more years or whether he’s not, he’s made such an amazing mark on so many individuals.”