But the beloved quiz show host also remains grateful to still be alive despite that diagnosis, and he’s particularly thankful to the person he credits that to — his wife of 30 years, Jean.
"She's kept me alive," the 80-year-old said in a new cover story for People magazine. “If it weren’t for Jean, I’d have put myself out of this a long time ago.”
In recent days, Trebek has offered conflicting updates on his health, both telling fans that he’s “doing well” and continuing the treatments that are “paying off” for him, and also telling The New York Times that his prognosis has worsened and that he’ll stop treatments if the current course fails to work.
These differing statements merely reflect the daily ups and downs he weathers right alongside his partner.
“One day last week, I woke up and Jean said, ‘How are you doing?’” he told People. “I said, ‘I feel like I want to die.’ She was very calm, and I explained to her later, ‘It has nothing to do with you. It just has to do with the fact that I feel I’ve become such a burden.’ … I feel like I’m a total mess, unable to do anything positive for her. That changes my attitude.”
However, she continues to greet those dark moments with an uplifting attitude that keeps them both going — in life and in love. It’s a relationship that has endured with the same intensity it began with so many years ago.
In Trebek’s new memoir, “The Answer is …: Reflections on My Life,” he writes, “With Jean it just happened. Sometimes you look at something, you look at someone, and you know. I mean, you’ve heard stories of people who meet and decide within half an hour; I knew this was going to be the person I’d end up with. With Jeanie that’s how it was. I wasn’t looking for love. But I recognized at a gut level that here was someone who was going to complete me as a human being.”
The only concern he had back then was the 24-year age difference between them.
"At first it worried me,” the “Jeopardy!” host told People back in a 1990 interview. “But then I thought, ‘To hell with it. We’ll make it work.'”
And they have.
“I’ve got (a) framed image. Jeanie gave it to me,” reads an excerpt from his book. “It’s a line from our favorite movie, ‘Wuthering Heights’: 'Whatever our souls are made of, yours and mine are the same.' That’s the way I look at our relationship. We are one soul in two bodies.”
And looking back at their love story now, three decades later, as they face the prospect of his life being cut short, he has only one regret — that they may not have much longer together than the 30 years they’ve already enjoyed.
“I was thinking about George and Barbara Bush when he died, and how they’d had 73 year together,” he said in an interview with People last year. “I thought, ‘Oh gosh, I suppose if I’d met Jean in my 20s, we could have had a longer life together.’"
Then he added with a laugh, "But I guess if I’d met her in my 20s, she wouldn’t have been born yet!”