Before we get to Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, a bit of personal perspective…
First thing you need to know is that it's never the news itself. You get used to that.
In fact, when you've been running the treatment-check-up-waiting game long enough, your brain develops a way to key in on and process the important words and phrases.
"Serious long-term concerns"
"Not the improvement we were expecting"
"If the next round doesn't go well, you may want to consider calling your sisters"
Now don't get me wrong: if that was "first-time me", I would've been sitting there frozen, pissing my pants and gripping the sides of my chair to keep from either crying or raging.
But this time? Nope. Been down this alley before.
Nothing new here that the "Pantheon of Pop Culture" in my brain can't take of.
(A story for another day)
The thing that does get you, though? The thing you can never quite prepare yourself for?
The Look. Or in this case, the lack of one.
Because the person who'd seen me naked… who'd seen me cry and laugh and rage… who'd seen me at my very best and my damn near worst?
That very same person couldn't do the one thing she'd been able to do every other time in the past.
Look me in the eye.
And that hit my brain like a ton of bricks.
Because when you tell someone you have cancer, you usually get one of two reactions.
The first reaction? That's where the person doesn't want you to "feel bad" so they make it their mission to "not treat you any different" – and yet, they do. Wanting to keep you moving, keep you active – they want you to be a "jacked-up" version of you. Because if you keep moving… if you keep doing… then what could go wrong?
How could you die? You're too damn busy!
The other reaction? That's where the person slips into "reflective mage healer", commited to doing all of the internet research they can to get you better. They speak in softer, more hushed tones – as if loud volumes will cause you to shatter like a glass menagerie. They talk a lot about the past, about faith (even more ironic when you're a self-confessed agnostic) – basically, about topics you never remember discussing with them in the past.
Yet you can't shake this feeling that they're constantly trailing behind you, to catch you if you fall.
But not with a safety net. Feels more like a coffin.
Yet the one thing both reactions have in common? Neither of them involve a lot of actual conversation about you.
To be clear, I understand it. What can they say that I won't find some way to twist into something it wasn't meant to be? From their end, how many times do they want to hear that I shit myself from pain or threw up three times before noon?
So they do their best and you know they mean well, but you also learn pretty fast that it's going to be a bit lonely.
Sure, there are therapists and groups you can go to – and I strongly advise you do. They literally save lives.
But even that, I could only take in small doses – though my one-on-one sessions are the reason I'm still here, writing this right now.
So I learned just the right things to say to make those around me feel better – because the more they feel better about your situation, the easier it was for me to keep the level of privacy I needed to stay sane.
So when I saw the following video from Jeopardy!, I smiled and shed a tear. Alongside Alex.
In it, contestant Dhruv Gaur took his opportunity during "Final Jeopardy" to express what millions of us have wanted to say to Alex since he announced the start of his battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer:
— Jonathan Capehart (@CapehartJ) November 12, 2019
What you just saw there? What Gaur did that caused the Jeopardy host's voice to catch and tremble?
He spoke to Alex as one human being to another – expressing a simple yet powerful message in a personal way that was both compassionate and respectful. It came with an unspoken appreciation for what lies ahead for Alex without pretending to know – and it brought all of us into his home – to tell him how we feel – in as much the same way he's been welcome in our home for years.
He didn't try to reinvent him. He didn't try to bury him.
He told him that he loved him. That we all love him. And that we're here for him.
And that is an answer that doesn't need a question.