Upon learning of her husband's stage 4 cancer, “it felt as if the bottom dropped out of my world,” Jean said

By Julie Mazziotta
August 21, 2020 02:06 PM
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Jean and Alex Trebek
Ramona Rosales

In the weeks before Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, his wife of 30 years, Jean, noticed that something was off.

Her first sign was in December 2018, when they were traveling with their kids Matthew, 29, and Emily, 26, in Israel, she wrote in an essay for the Christian magazine Guideposts.

“We’d finished dinner one night, and I looked across the table at Alex,” Jean, 56, recalled. “His coloring seemed off. ‘You feeling okay?’ I asked. ‘I’m good,’ he said. Alex is not one to complain. But he admitted that he was having some stomach pains.”

When they returned home to Los Angeles, “things were still not right,” she said, and the Jeopardy! host went to the doctor for tests before they headed off on a planned trip to New York. During their trip, Alex’s doctor called and said that they had “some concerns” and needed him to come in right when they get back. Jean said they both tried not to “jump to conclusions,” but their suspicions were confirmed soon after.

His diagnosis — “pancreatic cancer with a tumor that had spread to the soft lining of his stomach” — was devastating, she said, and took her back to 1984, when she learned her older brother Chris had died in a car accident.

“It felt as if the bottom dropped out of my world. Again,” she said. “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 said that after learning of his diagnosis, Alex was immediately level-headed and asked for the next steps for treatment, which began with chemotherapy.

“Once a week, I would take him to his appointment. I’d sit with him and then drive him back home. Look after him the way I once did for Chris,” she said. “No matter how resilient you are, cancer has a way of making you feel truly vulnerable. Alex and I needed each other more than ever.”

Alex and Jean Trebek
RAMONA ROSALES

At the time, Jean “wondered then how long we had.” His treatment has been filled with ups and downs so far — Alex initially saw positive results with chemotherapy, but after his numbers declined he switched to an experimental immunotherapy treatment.

“Some days it’s a struggle for Alex to get out of bed,” Jean wrote, and “some days I feel really sad and angry,” she admitted. But their faith and love has helped both of them through. And overall, he’s “currently doing well,” a rep for the star confirmed to PEOPLE in July.

“More than a year and a half later, we’re still at it, every day a gift,” Jean said.