Everyone’s journey with cancer is different, also unique to them is the way in which they cope with the disease. Taking two late celebrities, Alex Trebek and Chadwick Boseman as an example, we can see the differences in how individuals deal with a cancer diagnosis.
Pancreatic cancer may only rank at number nine and ten in terms of most commonly diagnosed cancers amongst men and women (respectively), but most Americans are well aware of the disease ever since Jeopardy host Alex Trebek was diagnosed last year. The deadly disease has a low five-year-survival rate at only 9%. Most Americans are well aware of the disease ever since the late Jeopardy host Alex Trebek was diagnosed in 2019 and sadly passed away in November 2020. Though undoubtedly a trying year for Trebek, his loved ones, and his fans, the game show host publicly battled his cancer with his return to Jeopardy in September 2020.
A year-and-a-half after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Trebek became an inspiration for many affected by pancreatic cancer. Despite the side effects, which include fatigue, Trebek returned to the Jeopardy stage to do what he loved most. His passion for living life had his recently published memoir flying off the shelves. Appropriately titled ‘The Answer Is…: Reflections on My Life’, the memoir explores Trebek’s entire life to date – including his childhood through to his life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the memoir is not a story specifically about his cancer journey, Trebek used his fame to bring awareness to pancreatic cancer. In partnership with the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition, Trebek participated in a worldwide awareness initiative wherein he encouraged the public to know the risk factors and the symptoms of the deadly disease. His fame sparked conversation about pancreatic cancer while showing the patients across the world that cancer does not define a person.
While Trebek made great efforts to bring awareness to pancreatic cancer, some celebrities choose not to use their diagnosis to spearhead conversation. Actor Chadwick Boseman battled colon cancer before passing away in mid-2020. Unlike Trebek, he chose to keep his journey private. After his death, however, a wave of colon cancer awareness flooded the world.
Both Trebek and Boseman are beloved by their fans; however the differences between their journeys with cancer highlight that, even as a celebrity, a cancer diagnosis is an extremely personal experience. For Trebek, raising awareness and talking about his difficult prognosis helped him cope with the news. Boseman found strength in continuing his life as normal, only discussing his cancer treatment with those closest to him.
Trebek and Boseman are perfect and timely examples of how each person copes differently. There is no correct way to deal with a cancer diagnosis – whether a new diagnosis or an ongoing experience. Like many aspects of life, seeing someone else handle a situation differently can cause doubt with one’s own approach. However, as Trebek and Boseman nobly demonstrated, deciding whether to speak about a cancer diagnosis publicly is a personal choice. There is no right or wrong way for any patient to navigate such a decision. Each journey is as meaningful and unique as the next – and how one chooses to forge that journey is a noble act in and of itself.
Both these men are cherished icons who sadly lost their lives prematurely to this dreaded disease of cancer. However, the billions of lives they have touched throughout their careers will forever keep them in the heart and the minds of people worldwide.
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