Alex Trebek Reveals How His Family Reacted to His Decision to Stop Cancer Treatment
By Paige Gawley
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Alex Trebek does not plan to continue his cancer treatment. In his memoir, The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life, the 79-year-old Jeopardy! host reveals how his family reacted to his decision to likely cease all treatment following the completion of his current protocol.
"I sat down with [Emily], Matt and Jeanie, and told them I had made my decision," he writes of his 27-year-old daughter, 30-year-old son, and wife of 30 years, respectively.
"I’m going to stick with this current protocol, then that’s it. If it doesn’t work I’ll probably stop treatment," he writes. "It wasn’t an easy conversation, and it isn’t any easier writing these words. Quality of life was an important consideration."
Trebek's quality of life has been affected by both his illness and his treatments since he went public with his stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis in March 2019.
"My eyesight has deteriorated over the years. It's not as easy for me to read the clues," he writes of the challenges he faces when he hosts Jeopardy! amid his treatment. "The chemo has caused sores inside my mouth that make it difficult to enunciate. One treatment also turned my skin dark brown, and the chemo, of course, caused my hair to fall out."
"But part of it is mental too," he adds. "I'm the first to admit I'm not as sharp as I once was."
As for his future on Jeopardy!, Trebek admits that "there will come a time when I can no longer do my job as host -- do it as well as the job demands, as well as I demand."
"Whenever it gets to that point, I’ll walk away… And Jeopardy! will be just fine," he writes. "It doesn’t matter who’s the host. It’s a quality program… There are other hosts out there who can do equally as good a job as me. I think Jeopardy! can go on forever."
In addition to his physical health, his mental health as been affected by his illness.
"There are moments when I have some regrets about having gone public with my diagnosis... I feel a lot of pressure to always be tough -- to be stoic and show a stiff upper lip. But I'm a g**damn wuss," he writes. "The will to survive is there, and then you get hit with shock waves -- whether pain or unpredicted surges of depression or just debilitating moments of agony, weakness... Just being awake is enough to exhaust me."
Trebek writes that his family "had a good cry" following his announcement, but, after "they had a chance to absorb the news," he has come to peace with his decision.
"I’m not afraid of dying. One thing they’re not going to say at my funeral as part of the eulogy is, 'He was taken from us too soon,'" he writes. "I’m about to turn 80. I’ve lived a good, full life, and I’m nearing the end of it. I know that. The only thing that might bother me is if I pass on before I get to have grandchildren. (Hint, hint.)"
"But when death happens, it happens," Trebek continues. "Why should I be afraid of it? Now, if it involves physical suffering, I might be afraid of that. But, according to my doctor, that’s what hospice is for."
As for if he's turning to faith during this time of his life, Trebek writes that he believes that "we are all part of the Great Soul -- what some call God."
"We are God, and God is us. We are one with our maker. How do I know this? It’s not that I know it. It’s that I feel it. The same way that when I go to Africa I feel that is where I came from. The same way I feel that Jean is my soul mate. I feel it in my gut," he explains. "If ever there was an opportunity to believe in God -- a god -- this might be a good one, Trebek, now that you’re on the verge. What have you got to lose?"
He's also spent time mulling over how he'd like to be thought of after his death.
"I’d like to be remembered first of all as a good and loving husband and father, and also as a decent man who did his best to help people perform at their best," he writes. "If that’s the way I’m remembered, I’m perfectly happy with that."
Now, amid COVID-19, Trebek is at home with his family, all of whom have traveled to be with him.
"Jean doesn't complain, but I worry about the toll it is taking on her. I worry how it's affecting Matthew and Emily too... I'm happy that they have lives of their own and I don't want them to see me when I'm going through an especially bad day," he writes. "But now because of the COVID-19 quarantine, I can't shield them from it... They're around me much more than before, and I know why. And it makes me love them even more."
In fact, Trebek goes on to explain a meaningful interaction with each of his children.
"Matt says he came home because the coronavirus had shut down the restaurants' dining-in service," he writes of his son, who co-owns two New York City eateries. "It's a good excuse, but I know the real reason why he came. He recognizes this is our last go-round. He's here to spend quality time with me before we have no time left to spend together."
Emily likewise "recognized the importance of spending more quality time together."
"Recently, just before the quarantine went into effect, she and I for the first time went to a movie, just the two of us, alone together. We had never done that before," he writes. "Afterward, we talked about our relationship and the deep feelings of love and respect we have for each other. She's an amazing young woman."
Trebek is grateful for the extra time with his family, but also laments that what could be his final days are being spent sitting at home due to quarantine.
"Here I am wanting to enjoy what might be the last of my days, and, what, I’m supposed to just stay at home and sit in a chair and stare into space? Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad. Except instead of a chair, I’ll sit on the swing out in the yard," he writes. "Yep, I’ll be perfectly content if that’s how my story ends: sitting on the swing with the woman I love, my soul mate, and our two wonderful children nearby."
The Answer Is...: Reflections on My Life is out now.