Alex Trebek, the longtime host of Jeopardy!, appeared on Good Morning America on Wednesday for a frank interview about his battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, including his struggle with depression during chemotherapy.
“My oncologist tells me I am doing well, even though I don’t always feel it,” Trebek said on the ABC morning show.
When Trebek, 78, announced the diagnosis last month, there was an immediate outpouring of shock and support from fans and well-wishers, whom he thanked on Wednesday. But he said he wanted to use the attention to raise awareness about pancreatic cancer and what it was like to live with the disease.
“I have had kidney stones, I have had ruptured disks, so I am used to dealing with pain,” he said. “But what I am not used to dealing with is these surges that come on suddenly of deep, deep sadness. And it brings tears to my eyes.”
Trebek said he often felt depressed the day after a chemotherapy treatment. He said he was scheduled to undergo another round of chemotherapy next week and would then “see where things stand.”
“Chemo affects people in different ways, and people have to understand that,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with saying, ‘Hey, I am really depressed today and I have no idea why. Why am I crying today?’”
“Been there, done that,” replied the interviewer, Robin Roberts, who was treated for breast cancer in 2007 and a rare blood and bone marrow disorder in 2012.
Trebek said the only thing to do was to keep calm and carry on.
“I just take it as it comes,” he said. “It is no big deal. I go in and I sit down, I joke with the nurses and I am there for an hour and a half while they inject all this stuff into me. Then I go home and I have a good day. Then the next day for no reason that I can fathom, it turns south on me. But that’s OK.”
Pancreatic cancer is aggressive and highly lethal. There is no screening test that can detect the disease early, and it usually shows no symptoms until it is advanced. Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of the disease.
Experts say only 10-15 per cent of patients learn they have the disease at a time when the cancer can be surgically removed, and it returns in up to 85 per cent of postoperative patients, usually within two years. For patients who have been treated with surgery and chemotherapy, the median survival time is 54 months.
Trebek has hosted more than 7,000 episodes of the quiz show Jeopardy! since its daily syndicated debut in 1984, when it was revived by its creator, Merv Griffin. The show had been cancelled before Trebek became host, and its popularity surged with him at the helm, turning “Jeopardy!” into an evening ritual for many Americans.
In July, long before the cancer diagnosis, Trebek said he might retire when his contract expired in 2020, telling a TMZ host that his chances of staying were “50-50, and a little less.” He suggested two people who might replace him: Alex Faust, an announcer for the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League, and the CNN analyst Laura Coates.
Trebek, who has hosted dozens of episodes since learning he had cancer, joked on Wednesday that he had “timed my diagnosis with the end of the season.”
The show has enjoyed a renewed place in pop culture thanks to contestant James Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas whose aggressive strategy and enormous winnings have captivated viewers.
“When you look at his performance, he has no weaknesses,” Trebek said Wednesday.
Holzhauer won more than $1.1 million in his first 15 games, coming to dominate the list of highest single-game payouts and becoming the second contestant to earn more than $1 million in regular-season play.
Trebek said on Wednesday that the diagnosis, and the outpouring of support he has received, helped him learn that he is “an extremely lucky individual.”
“I have managed to receive so much love from so many people and quite often you don’t get that during your lifetime,” he said. “After you’ve passed, after you’re dead, people say, ‘Oh, he was such a good guy, we really liked him.’ But I am getting all that before that event. It makes me feel really, really good.”