ELDER MUSIC: John Sebastian

Alex Trebek and Pancreatic Cancer

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.”


I, too, noticed when Alex said that he would 'beat this thing', Ronni. Obviously took me back to your post.
Thinking of you.

I wanted to look up Trebeck's age, b/c I thought he was awfully young to get this disease. But he's 78. He looks good for 78! Anyway, wish him well, and I do think a person's attitude has a lot to do with a prognosis. If you take it as a death sentence and give up, you're probably not going to last very long. If you address it head on, and do all the things you're supposed to do . . . well, there's still no guarantee, but your chances are a lot better. And what is life anyway, but a big game of chance?

"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."

I am glad you pointed this out. As a survivor of cancer myself, his statement didn't sit right with me. It almost seems to me like he is saying what *everyone* wants to hear. As a survivor of cancer, (and from your point of view), we know "the fighting mentality" isn't the most helpful. Hugs to you. Thanks for sharing, Ronni.

While it's impossible to experience diagnosis of a fatal disease from someone else's perspective, and I don't mean to presume an awareness I don't have, it felt like a very heavy burden had been given to Alex Trebek, at the age of 78. And that was before I even knew that his contract as host of Jeopardy! extends for three more years! I'm sure, after 35 years as a popular host who's become known for that role (it took me a minute to think of the name of the previous host, Art Fleming) there must be some provision that covers the eventuality of the diagnosis of a fatal illness. I wish him the strength and support for what ever he might face going forward, and whether the effects may be physiological or spiritual, Alex will surely be the beneficiary of millions of prayers, good wishes, and positive vibrations going out to the universe on his behalf.

No stranger to me. My former employer, Larry Straker of Cascade Steel Door,
Everett, Wa., succumbed to the same cancer during the late 90's. I'm sure
treatment has improved since then.

Ronni, you are undoubtedly right about your heightened awareness of pancreatic cancer. Also, I think it is more in the realm of "common knowledge" now, than previously, because more of us have known people with the diagnosis. It will be most encouraging if they come up with early detection testing that is affordable enough to be given on a routine basis, even in the absence of symptoms. As you have mentioned a few times, too often the diagnosis is too late to have reasonable expectations of living very long.

I was mostly unaware of pancreatic cancer until my dear sister-in-law was diagnosed - at such a late stage that she lived but 30 days following it. That was in 2013. She was 77.

That experience sensitized me, somewhat. Then two friends (you and a local friend) were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the same time, with approximately the same treatments and outcomes.

I would be pleased if the next news announced affordable testing and/or "the cure".

Not being a fan of games, I've not seen Mr Trebek; but, his name is certainly well known by us all. Good luck to him!

Alex has made Jeopardy quite special hosting the show with, well, grace. It’s something we see less of in these days of reality shows, crude and cruel ‘humour’, and wildly animated sci-fi fantasy.
Alex, may you have brilliant doctors and compassionate care givers. With love and respect.

I doubt that all of your fans on the 'boat' will ever stop thinking immediately of you when we hear the dreaded words 'pancreatic cancer'.

I wonder if those of you hear Alex Trebach say he will beat this really believe that he will and I wonder if he is just putting on a brave front for his followers hoping that it may soften the blow for some.

My brother said the same words when his colon cancer was discovered and I think he truly thought he could beat it. And he did live for 2 more years, but the cancer metastasized to other organs and he was unable to survive it in the long run.

I never miss Jeopardy & really do like Trebek……...a class act. I wish there were a way to get him to your blog, Ronni. I think it would be extremely helpful to him. With your background in TV with B. Walters, I'd expect you'd know how to do that, besides all you know & share with us. I hope he does as well as you are doing. Feel badly for both of you. Dee:)

I just Googled "How many survive stage 4 pancreatic cancer?" While they don't have an actual number, the percentage ranges from 1% to 3% survival rate after 5 years with at least one person known to be cancer free after 8 years. It's not much to hang on to, but its something. The question, I suppose, is do you want to live the rest of your life trying to beat the odds, or do you want to enjoy what time there is left? I can't imagine having to make that decision.

When I heard about Trabek's cancer, I immediately thought of you, Ronni. You've raised my awareness. And it is indeed the doctors who do the fighting. We patients just follow instructions and endure the treatment as best we can.

I thought of you the minute I heard the news, Ronnie, and imagined what you would think.

BTW, I didn't look at this blog since posting the comment about aging as a pressure cooker of expectations so only now saw how you made a post of it on Friday. The comments were wonderful. It is so good to know that we are not alone in thinking we have no interest in aging according to anyone else's plans.

Especially interesting was the comment on Gerotranscendance. There are 60 pages of the book available to scan online. The introduction points out how the lens through which aging is viewed determines how elders-especially their choices and behaviors-are assessed.

I don't like being managed. Having made outstanding choices about my ancestry (snort), and always being too cheap to party or smoke, my statistical chances of contracting common major illnesses of aging are low, esp. before the mid-late 80s should I live so long. I may be resisting elder bias for a long time. Here's to hoping that the attitudes toward aging change in both the medical and social environment.

Fighting an illness seems like an exhausting way to go. So does fighting the presumptions of intrusive, would-be do-gooders.

I wonder if Alex Trebec had a family history of cancer, specifically organ cancer, more specifically Pancreatic Cancer? My nephew died of Pancreatic Cancer in his early 50's, his father from Kidney Cancer, and about 2/3 of his father's siblings from organ cancers. In fact, over the last 10 years or so, when I started to a take more detailed notice of friend's or family member's deaths as I aged, there are few, that I can recall, where similar cancers were not present in their immediate family members. Heredity is a big factor, apparently, just based upon my anecdotal evidence--although experts seem to downplay the relationship. It was a monkey on my nephew's back as he was very aware of his family history and I think it colored his view of life, his longevity, as he nearly expected to get such news of his own fate eventually. In fact, after he survived a melanoma about 10 years prior to his Pancreatic Cancer diagnosis, his subtle since of doom intensified. Some doctors think if you have a Melanoma, odds are greater to get Pancreatic Cancer. For me, the good news is that, other than my nephew--which can arguably be attributed to his father's family branch, I have no known blood relatives with cancer other than a minor skin cancer. However, that's the good news while the bad news is my father died young from a series of heart attacks over a ten year period--I lost most confidence in my longevity after witnessing his death when I was nineteen years old, but, even to this day I look over my shoulder thinking the same fate might suddenly come roaring in, although I have now outlived him by over 50 years. A cancer diagnosis would be a huge shock to me. Not sure which I'd prefer, If I can put it this way?

My beautiful daughter is now in the last stage of dying from pancreatic cancer. She was diagnosed during a visit to the emergency room for gut pain--a CT scan showed a mass on her pancreas and lesions on her liver. This was the first part of January. She was miserable and in pain every day thereafter until she went into hospice care in February. Said she just couldn't do it any more.

There is no history of pancreatic cancer in my family. Little history of any kind of cancer. Elizabeth survived inflammatory breast cancer twelve years ago, undergoing an aggressive treatment regimen, dose dense chemo every two weeks for eight sessions and a year of herceptin, which at the time was a newly approved drug. At the time of that diagnosis, we thought she'd been given a death sentence, since the odds for that kind of breast cancer are not good. She was cancer free for the following twelve years. I'm pretty sure, however, that she was made vulnerable to this new cancer by that experience.

This is a mean cancer, seldom, as the comments here have indicated, diagnosed before it is too late. She and her husband saw a dietician (!) when she first started having pain. I don't know if she'd have done better had she seen a doctor.

Meanwhile, I cannot believe I am matter-of-factly writing this comment! This came barreling through so fast, we are all numb and reeling.

A positive attitude is important to overall health and especially when coping with a cancer diagnosis.

A: Battle Fatigue. Q: What Kinds of Words Shouldn’t We Use About Illness?

So glad you wrote about this, Ronni, and I agree that it would be great if you could connect with Alex Trebek about it. Right after his announcement, this is what I blogged:

I’m sure you’re as sad as I am, on hearing the news about Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek’s Stage IV pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Can we even imagine Jeopardy with someone else? Well, apparently, Alex can’t either because he’s vowed to “fight this” and “beat it,” and make good on the remaining three years of his contract.

But I’m sad too, at his reliance on the kind of terminology that seems to infect so much writing about serious illness. It’s a battle. No, it’s a war. You want to win it.

Here’s what comes from seeing illness through that lens: if your disease progresses, does that mean you’re not fighting hard enough? If you’re too tired or even grumpy to be positive and put your best foot forward, does that mean the disease is winning the battle? And if your family and friends are urging you on to keep fighting, does that mean you’re disappointing them and that it must be some character weakness in you, if you just don’t want to?

Illness can be unpredictable, wily and complicated. It is not necessarily amenable to your strength of will and your determination to overcome it. Instead, how about dedicating yourself to treatment, doing your best to eat, sleep and live as well as you can for as long as you can?

I would have liked to have heard that from Alex. I also think he has a great opportunity to teach his audience about the nature of serious illness, the shock to the system, the ups and downs, the complications, the satisfaction of good days. And how great would it be if he sent out another message, telling us about his advance directive, and why he made the choices he’s made?

So I wish nothing but successful treatment ahead for Alex, and at least another three years on that contract. But please, no more war metaphors!

I've watched Jeopardy for quite some time and think Alex has done a fair job ( Art Fleming had large shoes).
I'm hoping whoever takes over will be paid well enough so they can live comfortably without hawking reverse mortgages and life insurance to senior citizens.

I'm mad as hell....

I have a little great nephew, five years old, with cancer, he has just finished two years of pain and treatment. Sadly only 4% of all the funds for cancer research are concentrated on childhood cancers. About $198 million dollars.

Take note that the entire budget for cancer research in any year is only about 4.9 BILLION DOLLARS.

Now here is the news that should keep us all up at night...


This is way beyond comprehension. It is impossible to wrap your mind around the absurdity of those two budget dollars and the person who brings them to us.

Anger and fight is not always bad. It can be the motivating force that moves us beyond an acceptance of evil. This is evil.

I, too, was saddened to hear Trebek had been diagnosed with PC. I’ve been wondering for some time if there’s has been an increase in the number of cases or if they’ve just received more publicity and I’m more aware?

PC first came into my consciousness twenty years or so ago when a friend’s ex-husband who had abused his body for a number of years was diagnosed with it. Then about ten years ago a professional colleague who had been very health-conscious caring for her body received the PC diagnosis. Seems PC cares little about how we may or may not have engaged in healthy living.

So, my ears have perked up with the mention of PC all these years, then your diagnosis came as a shock though I recalled reading years ago the history in your family you shared. I thought at the time you surely would not necessarily develop PC and probably wrote to reassure you that didn’t mean you would have it.

Whatever the triggers, any genetic issues that may be factors, I certainly hope research continues to prevent this disease, successfully treat those who develop it and, at least, find a way to detect it in early stages.


I personally would not presume or judge anyone's use of language when receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Until one walks in cancerous shoes, it's what the person, patient decides.

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