'Jeopardy' Host Alex Trebek Tells Fans Cancer Treatments Are 'Paying Off'
FRIDAY, July 17, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Fans of "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek got a health update for the first time in months on Thursday when he told followers that his treatments for pancreatic cancer are "paying off."
"I'm doing well," the 79-year-old host said in a video recorded at his home. "I've been continuing my treatment and it is paying off, though it does fatigue me a great deal. My numbers are good. I'm feeling great."
Trebek also took the opportunity to tell fans that he has written a book, titled The Answer Is… Reflections on My Life, that will be out July 21. He also announced he plans to return to the studio to film new episodes of his wildly popular game show in September. The show's filming has been in hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trebek first announced he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March 2019. Through several rounds of chemotherapy, he has kept fans of the show updated on his progress. He beat the one-year survival rate for stage 4 pancreatic cancer patients in March, which stands at only 18%, CBS News reported.
Here is Trebek, delivering the latest health update in his own words:
Back in October, Trebek partnered with the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition to issue a public service announcement aimed at heightening awareness of the killer disease.
The aim was to "help raise global awareness of the risks and symptoms of pancreatic cancer," Trebek said at the time.
"I wish I had known sooner that the persistent stomach pain I experienced prior to my diagnosis was a symptom of pancreatic cancer," he noted in the one-minute video. "Other common symptoms can include mid-back pain, unexplained weight loss, new-onset diabetes and the yellowing of the skin or eyes."
It's been a rocky road for Trebek since he first announced his diagnosis.
Two months later, he and his doctors announced that he appeared to be winning his battle against the disease.
"It's kind of mind-boggling," Trebek told People at the time. Even though the overall survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 9%, Trebek responded well to chemotherapy.
"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%," he told the magazine.
In late August 2019, Trebek seemed to be doing so well that he returned to taping the 35th season of "Jeopardy!"
But his health again took a turn for the worse.
"Yup, [I] went all the way down to numbers that correspond with a normal human being without cancer," he told the Canadian television network CTV at the time. "[But] then all of a sudden, it blew up and went 50% higher than when it was first diagnosed. Go figure." So, Trebek resumed chemotherapy in September 2019.
Trebek credits the warmth and support of fans for any inroads he's made against the cancer.
"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 told People. "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."
Because it is so often symptomless until it reaches an advanced stage, pancreatic cancer has a high fatality rate. According to the American Cancer Society, about 57,600 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease in 2020, and the illness is expected to claim over 47,000 lives.
In addition, pancreatic tumors are particularly aggressive "due to a mutational profile that makes it resistant to therapies that work better for other tumor types," explained Dr. Angela Alistar. She directs gastrointestinal medical oncology at Morristown Medical Center, in Morristown, N.J.
Trebek is philosophical about his chances, and said death doesn't frighten him.
"I'm not afraid of dying," the 79-year-old told CTV. "I've lived a good life, a full life, and I'm nearing the end of that life -- if it happens, why should I be afraid of that? One thing they're not going to say at my funeral, as a part of a eulogy, is 'He was taken from us too soon.'"
Born in 1940 in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, Trebek initially was a TV journalist before hosting a Canadian quiz show, "Reach for the Top." That led to being hired to host U.S. game shows such as NBC's "The Wizard of Odds" in 1973 and "The $128,000 Question," before moving to "Jeopardy!" a decade later.
He's been a spokesperson for charities such as World Vision and Smile Train, and has entertained troops on numerous USO tours.
Trebek married twice -- to Elaine Callei in 1974 (the marriage lasted seven years) and then to Jean Currivan in 1990, with whom he has two children, Emily and Matthew.
Visit the American Cancer Society for more about pancreatic cancer.
SOURCES: World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition PSA; Oct. 4, 2019, CTV; Aug. 29, 2019, NBC News; March 29, 2019, People; Angela Alistar, M.D., director, gastrointestinal medical oncology, Morristown Medical Center, Morristown, N.J.