Alex Trebek opens up on his battle with cancer, experimental new treatment and new memoir

"There have been tough moments," said the host.

ByCameron Harrison, Angeline Jane Bernabe, and Dominick Proto via GMA logo
July 20, 2020, 7:32 AM

Since Alex Trebek first announced that he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in March 2019, he says he’s had good and bad days.

But these days, things are looking up for the “Jeopardy!” game show host who’s releasing a memoir.

“I’ve received so many expressions of love and so many prayers said on my behalf -- since the diagnosis was made public that I thought, ‘Well, maybe -- maybe the people would care to learn something about me,” Trebek told ABC News’ T. J. Holmes in an exclusive interview that aired Monday on "Good Morning America."

"Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek speaks to ABC News' T.J. Holmes in an interview that aired July 20, 2020, on "Good Morning America."
ABC News

Trebek’s new book, entitled, “The Answer Is …: Reflections On My Life,” will give fans a glimpse of the man they’ve welcomed into their living rooms for years. From learning how much he curses to how little he texts as well as thoughts on famous contestants on “Jeopardy!”, fans will be able to learn more about the beloved host and how his family upbringing has shaped his work ethic and will to survive.

But with the excitement of his new book, Trebek doesn’t discount how some days are much more difficult than others.

“There was one day a few weeks ago when Jeanie [Trebek's wife, Jean Trebek] asked me in the morning, ‘How do you feel?’ And I said, ‘I feel like I wanna die.’ It was that bad,” said Trebek. “I apologize to her and explain that it has nothing to do with my love for her or my feelings for her. It just has to do with the fact that I feel like I’m a terrible burden to her. And that bothers me tremendously.”

Alex Trebek and Jean Currivan Trebek attend the 47th AFI Life Achievement Award honoring Denzel Washington at Dolby Theatre on June 6, 2019 in Hollywood, Calif.
Michael Kovac/Getty Images, FILE

In September of last year, Trebek first revealed the mental toll that cancer has had on him, saying that he sometimes feels a “surge of sadness” and “depression.” Despite feeling like a “burden,” he said his wife has helped him get through the toughest moments.

“She’s a saint,” said Trebek, choking up while describing Jean, his wife of 30 years. “She has so much goodness in her that she is always giving out, always putting out to help me get over difficult moments. And there have been some difficult moments. I’m just in awe of the way she handles it.”

In his interview, Trebek got candid about how often difficult moments come up both at home and at work. Also, the pain that keeps him up at night.

“I’m good at faking it,” he said. “There have been tough moments. And I don’t know what it is, but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Let’s do it. Get out there, suck it up, make it happen.”

One thing that seems to be helping him get through each day too is his love for the show.

“It’s something that I can’t explain intellectually. At a gut level, without even thinking about it, it just happens. I suddenly wake up and I’m able to perform and handle the show because I like it. It's a good job,” said Trebek, who has been hosting the show for 36 years and still has no plans of ever leaving.

“My doctor has told me that he is counting on me celebrating two years of -- survivorship past the diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer. And that two years happens in February,” said Trebek. “So I expect to be around ‘cause he said I will be around. And I expect to be hosting the show if I am around.”

Currently, the 79-year-old is undergoing an experimental immunotherapy treatment, which is the same treatment that was used by former Senator Harry Reid, who was also diagnosed with stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer.

Reid’s cancer is now in remission, and Trebek is seeing some positive results so far too.

“They do a blood test to see what my CA 19 numbers are,” Trebek explained. “And the CA 19 numbers are an indicator of how your pancreatic cancer is progressing. Eight weeks ago, the numbers were at about 3,500. Now, they’re below 100. So I’m going in the right direction. The doctors have said they have never seen a chart like mine because there are peaks. I said, ‘What do you mean -- you don’t -- you haven’t -- you don’t see that often? What do you usually see?’ They usually see it going up. I’m a bit of an anomaly.”

WATCH: Our favorite Alex Trebek moments from 'Jeopardy!'

"If Andy yearns for Brenda & Brenda cares about Charlene who pines for Andy, the 3 of them form one of these" 
"If Andy yearns for Brenda & Brenda cares about Charlene who pines for Andy, the 3 of them form one of these" 

Although the treatment seems to be working, Trebek said that if it doesn’t, he’s “not going to go to any extraordinary measures to ensure my survival.”

When he had to explain it to his family, the game show host said it was “tough,” but “they handled it beautifully.”

“They understand that there is a certain element regarding quality of life,” said Trebek. “And if the quality of life is not there -- it’s hard sometimes to push. And just say, ‘Well, I’m gonna keep going even though I’m miserable.”

With Trebek’s memoir out this week, and the positive effects of his experimental treatment, it’s given Trebek something to look forward to and a will to survive, which he admits might be keeping him from “getting his affairs in order.”

"Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek speaks to ABC News' T.J. Holmes in an interview that aired July 20, 2020, on "Good Morning America."
ABC News

“I’ve said to myself, ‘Hey, you -- you better start getting your affairs in order,’” he shared. “And I know exactly what I need to do, but I have yet to do it."

"So there’s something in the back of my mind that says, ‘Woah, hold on a second, host, breathe. Maybe you’re gonna be around for a little while longer,'" Trebek added. "And that would be so nice.”

Trebek’s memoir, “The Answer Is ...: Reflections On My Life, goes on sale Tuesday. He said he is donating his proceeds from the book to charity.