Last year, Sathvik Namburar ‘14 was selected to appear on Jeopardy, the iconic game show hosted for the past 38 years by Alex Trebek. Namburar would end up winning more than $50,000 over two appearances.
This week, in an essay written for the Valley News, Namburar explains what the experience meant to him, and why he came away with far more than just the cash prize. He writes:
“I do not remember many parts of the tape day, as my brain was addled by the stress and pressure of participating in the show. Still, I will never forget the first time I saw Trebek in person. I was sitting in the audience—as my name had not been chosen for the first taping of the day (five shows are taped consecutively in one day)—and he bounded onto the stage. From afar he appeared unshaken by the ravages of pancreatic cancer, his hair glistening white with nary a strand out of place, his suit perfectly tailored. He maneuvered through the game with ease.”
Namburar, who was valedictorian of his class at Woodward and is now a medical student at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, understood full well the disease Trebek is fighting.
“Since then, I have thought often about Trebek and the grace with which he handled his duties. As a medical student, I followed news of Trebek’s stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis and prognosis closely, but after my taping, I realized that my focus had been misguided. I had spent months studying pancreatic cancer and treatment options with Trebek’s diagnosis in mind, but I had dedicated hardly any time to thinking about how the diagnosis and treatment would affect the man himself.
“Given that medicine is a scientific field, healthcare providers are often driven by data in their decision-making. We know, for example, that stage 4 pancreatic cancer has a specific percentage of survival over the five years after diagnosis, and we know which treatments can prolong life to the greatest extent. Despite all that data, or perhaps because of it, we sometimes overlook how the disease itself can change everything about patients’ lives.
“Trebek bravely chose to return to work after receiving his diagnosis, to quiz contestants even though he writhed on the floor in pain between tapings while mouth sores made it difficult for him to enunciate clues. Indeed, on my tape day he insisted on re-shooting his reading of certain clues when he felt his first reading was not up to his exacting standards.”
Ultimately, Namburar writes, what he took away from the experience was a lesson in humanity.
“To me, Alex Trebek’s legacy is not the nearly four decades for which he has hosted Jeopardy!, nor is it his dry, intellectual humor. It is not even the soothing effect that he had on me when I competed on the show, which propelled me to victory.
“Instead, Alex Trebek’s legacy to me is the reminder that disease is a human process with human consequences, a legacy I will carry forward in my career.”
Read the full essay here.
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