Trebek’s announcement comes weeks after the newest “Jeopardy!” season started.
“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek will have to again undergo chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer.
Trebek announced earlier this month that he had finished chemotherapy and was going back to work, just 5 months after revealing his pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
“I was doing so well and my numbers went down to the equivalent of a normal human being who does not have pancreatic cancer so we were all very optimistic and they said good we’re going to stop chemo we’re going to start you on immunotherapy,” Trebek said on “Good Morning America.”
But Trebek explained that after stopping chemotherapy he quickly regressed.
“I lost about 12 pounds in a week. And my numbers went sky high, much higher than they were when I was first diagnosed. So, the doctors have decided that I have to undergo chemo again and that’s what I’m doing,” he said.
Trebek said that the chemotherapy caused numerous side effects including hair loss and a lack of strength.
“[Chemotherapy] has different effects on you for some reason and I don’t understand why — occasionally it will cause excruciating pain in my lower back, other times it’s fatigue, other times it’s nausea,” he said. “Cancer is mysterious in more ways than one.”
Despite the difficult side effects, Trebek was adamant about staying on as host of the long-running game show. And his dedication and fortitude has put a spotlight on how even people in the midst of difficult medical treatment can stay on the job.
“As long as I can walk out and greet the audience and the contestants and run the game, I’m happy,” he said.
Rebecca V. Nellis, MPP, executive director of Cancer and Careers, said when public figures like Trebek or “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts share their story, people may be less worried about what will happen if they disclose their cancer diagnosis to their own employer.
It reminds people “that this is an issue, that it is a choice people are making, and that it can come with challenges — but that doesn’t mean it’s not doable,” said Nellis.
Research suggests that with some cancers, many people who make it through treatment are able to return to work.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that 80 percent of 416 breast cancer survivors started working again.
But Dr. Lidia Schapira, an oncologist and director of the Stanford Cancer Survivorship Program, said returning to work after cancer depends on many factors, such as how ill a person is, how “intense or grueling” the treatment is, and whether the treatment is for the “short or long haul.”
Some people may continue to work while they’re on a short course of oral chemotherapy or while living with cancer as a chronic illness.
But others may need to take time off for surgery or several months of chemotherapy infusions. These treatments can leave people with less energy, disrupted sleep, or physical discomfort and pain.
“For that person, who also may be a family caregiver or involved in other social roles, it may be impossible to continue to work a full schedule,” said Schapira.
But even when a person is able to return to work, their cancer can become resistant to treatment. If this affects their level of energy or causes pain, staying on the job may become more difficult.
What a person does on their job also affects whether they can work during or after cancer treatment.
Someone with a busy travel schedule may not be able to stick with it if they have to get a chemotherapy infusion every 2 to 3 weeks.
Likewise, a teacher who works with young children — who often have colds — may not be able to go back to work, because chemotherapy can weaken the immune system.
How an employer responds to a person disclosing their cancer diagnosis also matters.
“Some employers are wonderful at allowing people to be flexible,” said Schapira, such as allowing them to reduce their hours, work remotely, or even change their job duties temporarily.
“But others are not,” she added.
This is especially challenging for people who depend on their job for a steady paycheck or health insurance to cover their cancer treatment.
These people may continue doing the same job, but “add the ‘work’ of being a cancer patient to their general workload,” said Schapira.
These challenges are complicated by “misperceptions and misconceptions about what people can do — and what they want to do — after they’ve been diagnosed with cancer,” said Nellis.
This can come from all sides.
A person diagnosed with cancer may think they can’t work. Their loved ones may think they shouldn’t work.
Or a doctor or employer may feel that going on disability is the best option.
But these opinions “might not be based on all the information,” said Nellis.
She said it’s important for people with cancer to have open discussions about work with their healthcare team.
“If the healthcare team knows that someone does X, Y, and Z in their job,” said Nellis, “they can help them strategize around what the treatment and side effects might look like, in relationship to their work.”
People should also research company policies and benefits that are relevant to their situation. This includes knowing what legal rights they have as an employee.
Nellis said one assumption that often comes up is that “everyone would stop working if they didn’t have to work.”
You only have to look at Trebek and others to see that this isn’t true.
Like Steve Jobs, who worked for 8 years after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“He did not have to work after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” said Nellis. “Work was part of his identity. It was part of being a contributor to the world. It was how he challenged himself.”