Today is Alex Trebek’s 80th birthday.

(Simon & Schuster)

The iconic and longtime host of “Jeopardy!” announced in March 2019 that he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. His course has been rocky; interspersed with some periods when the disease was under control and he felt optimistic, and some when he did not feel well and suffered bouts of depression and severe pain.

But he never stopped working. Even during the pandemic, when his crew set up a studio at his house in California and Alex taped intros to old shows. He also worked on his new memoir: “The Answer is…” – as he said “to set his own record.” The book came out today with dedication to “those who are hoping to become survivors.” You can read a review here.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult to treat. It is only curable when diagnosed early, so it can be surgically removed before it grows and spreads. Around 50K, Americans get diagnosed every year.

Alex’s cancer could not be surgically resected, and he underwent several lines of anti-cancer treatments. Recently he said that he would consider stopping it if no longer effective.

Alex has been realistic about his disease and prognosis from the beginning. It is rare to see it today among the celebrities. Alexandra Alter captured this succinctly in the NYT article:

“With his cerebral bearing and aura of quiet, impartial authority, he embodies ideals that feel endangered: the pursuit of knowledge, and the inherent value of facts. He is a game show host and a smooth-talking, quick-witted entertainer, yes, but he’s also, in a way, an arbiter of truth.”

Here are a few quotes collected from his interviews:

On power of facts:

“There’s a certain comfort that comes from knowing a fact,” Trebek said. “The sun is up in the sky. There’s nothing you can say that’s going to change that. You can’t say, ‘The sun’s not up there, there’s no sky.’ There is reality, and there’s nothing wrong with accepting reality. It’s when you try to distort reality, to maneuver it into accommodating your particular point of view, your particular bigotry, your particular whatever — that’s when you run into problems.”

On death and dying:

“I’m not afraid of dying,” and “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?”

“There is an end to all,” he says in a straightforward tone. “Dying is part of life. And, hey, guys, it comes with the territory. So hang in there as long as you can, and let’s see what happens.”

On the decision making in advanced cancer:

“There comes a time where you have to make a decision as to whether you want to continue with such a low quality of life, or whether you want to just ease yourself into the next level. It doesn’t bother me in the least.”

On emotions:

“He (Alex’s doctor) told me not to feel embarrassed, but I said, ‘I do feel a little embarrassed. I feel like a wuss. It’s not that men shouldn’t cry. It’s that, my God, Alex, get yourself together, here.”

Happy Birthday #AlexTrebek!

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