As Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek continues to live with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, his wife Jean recently opened up about the initial shock of discovering his diagnosis. In an essay she penned for Guideposts, Jean revealed the difficult period brought her back to another traumatic event she suffered more than three decades earlier, when her brother was killed in a car accident.
She first noticed that something was wrong with Alex in December 2018, during a trip to Israel with their adult children. She thought his coloring looked off, but the host said that he only had some stomach pains. Things had not improved after they returned to their home in Los Angeles, prompting Alex to visit a doctor for tests. He was brought back in to take a CT scan, which revealed the incurable stage 4 pancreatic cancer, with a tumor that had spread to the soft lining of his stomach.
“It felt as if the bottom dropped out of my world. Again. Alex has been everything to me. I met him when I was 21, a challenging period in my life. His friendship—we were friends for a long time before becoming a couple—changed my life,” Jean wrote.
Jean described how she originally met Alex, who was friends with a man she had a part-time job doing bookkeeping for in Malibu. She wasn’t aware he was a famous game show host, not discovering it until she told her mom about him. During this time, she was dealing with a devastating event that she never thought she would be able to recover from.
On December 7, 1984, Jean lost her brother Chris in a car accident, describing it as the “worst day of my life.” They were close in age and she would always watch out for him as he dealt with some developmental delays due to being born with hydrocephalus. She never took the responsibility as a burden and the two were incredibly close. When she received the phone call from her mother informing her of the terrible news, she felt a pain that was unmatched until decades later, when the doctor spoke to Alex.
“All the terrible pain and loss I’d felt at Chris’s death came back. Only my faith in God’s ultimate goodness and love had gotten me through that period of my life. Then I met Alex, as if the Lord had led me through my grief to the man I would love forever. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. Could I accept this diagnosis? Could my faith sustain me now? Could I be strong for Alex and myself?”
While the news crushed Jean, she wrote that her husband wasn’t broken by the diagnosis and asked the doctor what should be done next. He would begin undergoing chemo and she would care for him, taking him to his weekly appointments. She recalled that the new responsibility reminded her of her time with Chris. They have shifted to a healthier diet to better deal with the pain caused by chemo, and they watch Jeopardy! together every evening.
Alex is still dedicated to hosting the game show, never missing a taping and sometimes beginning his day as early as 5:45 a.m., in order to film multiple episodes. She says it “rejuvenates” both him and her, as they no longer take for granted the small events that dot their lives. She also wrote that he appreciates the outpouring of support he has received from fans since announcing the news and was “overwhelmed” by discovering how much people really cared about him.
Jean revealed that due to the severity of the cancer, she wasn’t sure he would still be with her today, more than 18 months since being diagnosed. She added that no matter how much longer she has with Alex, she will continue to treat every day as a “gift.”