'Jeopardy!' Fans Show Support for Alex Trebek Amid His Cancer Battle

Robert Edelstein
PANCAN/Instagram

Longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek has a slew of honors, among them seven Emmys, including one for Lifetime Achievement; stars on two walks of fame; and a record 36-season run on the popular quiz show. Yet those accolades pale compared with the groundswell of concern that has greeted him since a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis last March and his inspiring public battle with the disease.

Now — with fans set to watch him shepherd the ultimate smart-guy smackdown, Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time, when he's still undergoing debilitating chemotherapy treatments — the love and prayers seem to double daily.

Some of those can be witnessed in a glass case that hangs on a wall at the Jeopardy! studio. It is, says Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PANCAN), stocked with well-wishes, teddy bears, crosses and other encouragements. 

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"You find out who someone is when they're faced with the greatest challenge of their life," adds Fleshman. "The man we see every night on Jeopardy! is the same in real life. He's pretty phenomenal."

Trebek, 79, says the prayers of fans helped bring about his early remission. "I told the doctors this has to be more than just chemo," he said at the time. The support has only increased since things took a downward turn this summer. "I've lived a full life, and I'm nearing the end of that life; I'm not afraid," he recently told an interviewer on Canadian television. Meanwhile, his fortitude encourages hope among the Jeopardy! faithful.

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Plus, find out how contestants are getting fans involved in the host's cancer battle.

On a November 11 Tournament of Champions episode, filmed soon after Trebek announced he needed a new round of chemo, contestant Dhruv Gaur used his Final Jeopardy! placard to answer, “We ❤ you Alex!" While the gesture choked up the host on-air, it also inspired more than 600 new donors to give to the Lustgarten Foundation, the country's largest funder of pancreatic cancer research, says president and CEO Kerri Kaplan.

Many of those donations had added notes from the show's devotees (one such message, "What is: Love Alex. Hate Cancer," came with a $100 contribution). Last May, Trebek and his Jeopardy! family — all wearing "Team Alex" hats — turned up for PANCAN's PurpleStride Walk, raising more than $70,000. 

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While the self-effacing host expressed some regrets about going public ("There's a little too much of Alex Trebek out there," he explained), he's the only one. "He could have chosen to fight cancer quietly," Kaplan says. "However, he has opened the door for so many other people to talk about hard things."

Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time, Premieres Tuesday, January 7, 8/7c, ABC