In 2019, Alex Trebek made the difficult decision to share his cancer diagnosis with the public, but it raised awareness.
“That’s a very personal decision to make to share, the ups and the downs, with the world. By doing that, he raised so much awareness about pancreatic cancer. You raised awareness about the need for more research funding, and he also helped to educate the public about the symptoms and risk factors of pancreatic cancer,” said Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
The longtime “Jeopardy!” host worked with Fleshman and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, also known as PanCAN. He even attended PanCAN Purple Stride event in Los Angeles shortly after he was diagnosed.
“Really important for people to share their journey with cancer because it gives help to other families to other patients that are currently battling, -- whether it’s pancreatic cancer or any cancer -- that they’re not alone,” Fleshman said.
Pan-Can connects patients with case managers to education about the disease. Every time Trebek spoke about his cancer, more people reached out to the nonprofit online.
“The five-year survival rate is just 10%. One of the issues with public awareness is that unfortunately the patients don’t live long enough to tell their story and to raise awareness,” Fleshman said.
“It really allows people and the general audience to understand that pancreatic cancer is real, and it can affect you or it can affect me,” said Dr. David Kwon, clinical director of Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center.
Kwon said Trebek speaking openly about his cancer has helped bring money for research.
“If we can get better public awareness, if we can get better patient education about the signs and symptoms, I truly believe what he will have done will have helped us change the needle where instead of 80% of pancreatic cancers that are found too late, we could actually say that in a couple years that 80% of the cancers are found early enough so that we can have better treatments,” he said.
Trebek died from pancreatic cancer about 20 months after he was diagnosed, but his shared journey has left a lasting impact.