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Going public with the private

TV host, Alex Trebek has been open and honest with the public about his health.  In March, he revealed he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  This is the same cancer that killed other beloved stars like Hollywood’s favourite dancer, Patrick Swayze and television’s favourite dad, Michael Landon.

Now the cancer that has a less than 10 percent survival rate also has its hooks in television’s favourite game show host.  For 35 years, he’s been asking questions on Jeopardy! – the game that turns nerdy brainiacs into superstars.  And he’s Canadian-born, so we’ve got skin in the game, too.

Trebek also shared his progress during treatment.  And he seemed to be beating the odds when he announced this summer that not only had his tumors shrunk, but he was in “near remission.”  The joyful news spread through the media like lightning.

After all, this was especially good news for others battling the same disease.  Some said it provided hope.  Others called it “Miraculous.”

But what exactly did “near remission” mean?

Not much apparently.  According to toxicologists and oncologists, “tumor shrinkage does not always correlate with longer life.”  It’s “a long way from a cure.”  And worse yet, “advanced stage pancreatic cancer [like Trebek’s] is basically incurable.”

So it’s little surprise that after returning for the fall season of Jeopardy!, Trebek went public with his most recent news:  his latest tests were not good and he was back in chemo.

He’s also been honest about the side effects from this most recent treatment.  It’s causing sores on the inside of his mouth which occasionally make him slur his words on the show.  (He thinks he’ll be stepping down from Jeopardy! soon.)  He’s also tired and has experienced “surges of deep, deep sadness.”

How selfless for Trebek to share his journey with fans and offer solace to others fighting similar medical battles.  But is it really necessary?  Or helping?

Celebrities like Trebek often use their public platforms to inspire and inform the public.  However, as his initial “good news” showed, their stories are often ill-informed and biased.  They can be misinterpreted or erroneously applied to other situations.

Furthermore, sharing one’s personal journey as it happens is short-sighted.  Even they, themselves, don’t have the full story yet.  And they’re going to impart it as helpful information to others at risk?

Trebek has also started to regret his outspokenness.  In a recent TV interview, he said it has encouraged people to lean on him for strength and optimism.  But at this point, he just can’t take on their pain in the midst of his own.

And why should he?  He’s a 79-year-old man fighting for his life.  He shouldn’t need the strength for others too.  Not to mention, having to reassure upset fans that he’s okay with dying.

I respect his decision to share his experience.  As a public figure, he may not have had much choice.  But when it’s all said and done, what will anyone gain from knowing the personal tragedy of Alex Trebek?