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Could Steve Jobs Have Been Saved?

Updated on April 28, 2016

The consensus was and still is that Steve Jobs had acted selfishly, stupidly, and irresponsibily. But is it true?

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I presume everyone knows that Steve Jobs was the charismatic co-founder of Apple Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios who gave the world the Macintosh computer, the iPhone, and the iPad, as well as iTunes and Pixar movies. A pioneer of the personal computer revolution, he transformed "one industry after another, from computers and smartphones to music and movies".

In October 2003, Steve Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Rejecting his doctors' advice to undergo immediate surgery, he sought all sorts of alternative treatments. 9 months later on July 31, 2004, he finally underwent surgery to remove part his pancreas. Jobs, however, subsequently suffered from hormonal imbalance and underwent a liver transplant in 2009. He died on October 5, 2011, due to respiratory arrest.

Steve Jobs lived his final 8 years with regret, guilt, and remorse for refusing immediate surgery after his initial diagnosis of cancer. The general consensus was, and still is, that he had acted "selfishly, stupidly, and irresponsibly" when he refused immediate surgery until it was too late. The question is: "Could he have been saved, if he had acted otherwise?"

To answer this question, we must at least have some basic understanding of what pancreatic cancer is.

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The Nature of Pancreatic Cancers

Often called a "silent" disease, pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect because the tumors are microscopic and rarely show any symptoms during its early growth. Like all cancers, pancreatic tumors grow at a steady rate, measured by its doubling time. Once they reach a certain size, symptoms may include:

  • jaundice, if the tumor compresses the bile duct and/or liver;
  • abdominal and/or lower back pain, caused by the tumor pushing against the nerves;
  • loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting;
  • significant weight loss and weakness; and/or
  • pale or grey stool, and steatorrhea (excess fat in stool).

Walter Isaacson Discusses Steve Jobs' Genius

Tracing Steve Job's history

The chronology of events are as follows:

1983: Steve Jobs, then aged 28, confided in John Sculley, the then CEO of Apple, that he believed he would die young. He had become a vegetarian (or rather a fruitarian) since 1972, when he entered Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

1987: Steve Jobs' hands became inexplicably yellow.

1998: By at least this date, Steve Jobs was suffering from abdominal and back pains. Misdiagnosed as having kidney stones (something rather unlikely for a strict vegan), the hospital gave him a shot of Demerol and the pain went away.

2003, October: Steve Jobs' urologist asked him to get a CAT scan of his kidneys and ureter, as his last scan was 5 years earlier. While the scan did not reveal anything wrong with his kidneys, it showed a shadow on his pancreas that was caused by pancreatic neuro-endocrine (islet cell) tumors, a relatively rare and unique form of tumor that affects about 1% of all pancreatic cancer patients. Steve Jobs then sought alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, dietary supplements, and juices. His refusal to undergo surgery was apparently incomprehensible to both his wife and his close friends, who continually urged him to do it.

2004, July 31: Steve Jobs finally underwent surgery at Stanford Medical Center, where he had a modified Whipple procedure that removed part of his pancreas. The following day, he reassured Apple employees in an e-mail that the type of cancer he had, “represents about 1% of the total cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed each year, and can be cured by surgical removal, if diagnosed in time (mine was).” (Steve Jobs was obviously deluded by his doctors.)

2009, April: After suffering from hormonal imbalance, caused by the removal of part of his pancreas, Steve Jobs underwent a liver transplant. When doctors took out his liver, they found spots on the peritoneum (the thin membrane surrounding the internal organs), indicating that Steve Jobs' cancer had spread.

2011 July: By this date, Steve Job's doctors had practically given up hope. Steve Job's cancer had spread to his bones and other parts of his body.

2011, October 5: Steve Jobs died of respiratory failure.

The overall consensus was, and still is, that Steve Jobs had acted selfishly, stupidly, and irresponsibly:

  • when he refused surgery in October 2003, at the time of his original diagnosis; and
  • by being a vegan.

Conclusion

Pancreatic cancer can be very difficult to diagnose, with the average time between tumor development and diagnosis being 5 - 10 years. It is also very difficult to treat. The success rate of treatment is poor, even for patients who undergo surgery because it comes back about 85% of the time. According to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, pancreatic cancer, at just 6%, is the only commonly diagnosed cancers with a 5-year relative survival rate in the single digits. The American Cancer Society says that only one-fifth of Americans diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive a full year.

During surgery to treat for pancreatic cancer, doctors typically take out the bulk of the pancreas, leaving only a small portion to carry out its insulin-producing functions. Most patients, however, eventually die of liver failure, when their liver is taken over by tumors. Steve Jobs' cancer seems to follow the same course.

Based on the foregoing, it should be clear by now that whether Steve Jobs did undergo surgery immediately after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or otherwise, his chance of long-term survival was poor. Notwithstanding, he survived 8 years after his initial diagnosis, way ahead of most pancreatic cancer patients who merely survive for only a year.

Was Steve Jobs stupid to seek alternative treatment, such as acupuncture, dietary supplements, and juices? Truth is that there are cancer patients who sought such alternative therapies and treatments and have been successfully saved. Australian author Jessica Ainscough was in her twenties, when she was told that she had a rare and aggressive form of cancer that would necessitate amputating her arm in order to save her life. She decided not to take her doctor's advice, choosing, instead, to follow her own intuition and instinct. She changed her lifestyle and diet dramatically, and her cancer eventually disappeared. Jessica says:"I'm living proof that doctors aren't always right, that wellness starts in your mind, and that YOU are the most important authority on your own health & body”.

Steve Jobs speculated that his cancer was caused by the grueling year that he had spent running both Apple and Pixar, beginning in 1997. He said: "That’s probably when this cancer started growing, because my immune system was pretty weak at that time."

Dr. John McDougall, however, disagrees with Steve Jobs' conclusion. Based on his calculation of the doubling time of tumors, he concluded that Job's cancer started when he was possibly as young as 24 years old and that by the time of his initial diagnosis, his pancreatic cancer had spread to his liver and other parts of his body more than two decades earlier. Because of that, he concludes that surgery in 2003 would never have cured him.

Dr. McDougall also believes that Steve Job's strict vegetarian diet could have helped to slow down the progress of his pancreatic cancer. In short, Steve Jobs had beaten the odds by living more than 30 years with pancreatic cancer. There should, thus, be no regret when he died on October 5, 2011. He had done whatever he could possibly do. For all we know, if he had undergone surgery immediately upon his initial diagnosis, there would still be some people who might say that he was stupid not to have tried alternative therapies.

Lest we forget and become irrational because of Steve Jobs' stature in society, Steve Jobs is the not the only person to have fallen victim to pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is the 4th most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and the 8th, worldwide. As if this is not enough, pancreatic cancer is anticipated to move from 4th to 2nd place as the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. by 2020. The National Cancer Institute estimates that this year (2013), 38,460 Americans will die of pancreatic cancer. Celebrities who had died of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Michael Landon (American actor, director, and producer);
  • Patrick Swayze (American actor, dancer, and singer-songwriter);
  • Donna Reed (Academy Award Best Supporting Actress);
  • Luciano Pavarotti ( Italian operatic tenor);
  • Sally Ride (astronaut);

and many others. All in all, Steve Jobs did not live in vain. Despite his relatively short 57 years of existence, he had achieved much, not only for himself and his family, but also for the world.

Why did Steve Jobs Die?

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    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 20 months ago from SomeWhere Out There

      Could he have been saved is the question? From the day we are born until the time we die, God has chosen it for us. It would be nice if we could save all we love, but it isn't possible. Based, on the stage of cancer, the type, etc, unfortunately, he could not be saved. What a great man and a tragic loss, but his business is going strong because he empowered the right people. What a wonderful businessman and a plan.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      it really depends, some people do recover with acupunture, change of healthy food consumption and strong beliefs

    • WalterPoon profile image
      Author

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Thanks KenWu, need to get back to you and comment on a few of your hubs. Trying to clear up a few things and then I'll be back.

    • KenWu profile image

      KenWu 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Awesome, Walter!

      Life is unpredictable. No one can surely says what happens next. As a strict vegetarian, Jobs has done his best if not 'overly BEST' to make his body alkaline but it just never went away. Sometimes we need to ponder the unseen causes which might have lead to such thing to happen.

    • WalterPoon profile image
      Author

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Mylindaelliott, personally, I think he did the right thing, LOL. Surgery is not a solution. How many people are actually saved by surgery? Not many... and his symptoms first showed up 30 years ago and that he survived so long is already a miracle in itself.

    • mylindaelliott profile image

      mylindaelliott 4 years ago from Louisiana

      I guess I take exception to the 'stupidly, selfishly, and irresponsibly' part. I'm sure he regretted his decision but we all make decisions on the limited information we have and our values and beliefs every day. Some of those decisions will be wrong. I don't agree that it is stupid, selfish, or irresponsible. Regrettable, yes but not the others.

    • WalterPoon profile image
      Author

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Warren, I was trying to get Jessica's video for you but she has far too many and I cannot remember which one I saw earlier. Anyway, do read the below link to her website. Can you show me where you got your information from?

      http://lifestyletransformationguide.com/meet-jess/

    • WalterPoon profile image
      Author

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Warren, I cited Jessica from her own Youtube video. Do you have the medical records of Jessica Ainscough?

    • profile image

      warren 4 years ago

      Jessica Ainscough wasn't saved by alternative therapies and you can not say 'her cancer eventually disappeared' because she doesn't have scans. By her own admission she has no idea if she is cancer free or not and given that her cancer is slow growing it may kill her as predicted by medical science. Also you don't have access to Steve Jobs's medical records so this article is kind of redundant.

    • WalterPoon profile image
      Author

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Gsurvivor, thanks for dropping by.

    • profile image

      gsurvivor 4 years ago

      Very thought-provoking piece, it certainly gives a greater insight of Jobs' story. Liked it a lot, a definite vote up! :)

    • WalterPoon profile image
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      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Rock nj, they say health is wealth. It's quite astonishing that Steve Jobs managed to survive 30 years with pancreatic cancer. That could be due, in large part, to his vegan diet which dramatically slowed down tumor growth. But he was hoodwinked by his doctors into thinking that he could have been cured, had he undergone surgery 9 months earlier. And he lived with deep regret for the last few years of his life. I believe his surgery didn't do him any good at all. Many have undergone surgery and God knows how many have been cured. The success rate of surgery is very poor, what more when the cancer has spread.

    • Rock_nj profile image

      John Coviello 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Very well written Walter! I learned a lot about pancreatic cancer from this Hub. The fact that even Steve Jobs with all of his money couldn't escape the ravages of pancreatic cancer is a sobering thought. From ashes we came and from ashes we will return.

    • WalterPoon profile image
      Author

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Mel Carriere, I am caught between my own websites and writing in Hubpages. Writing in Hubpages is financially more lucrative, as I found out, but because I had been building my websites for the last 5 years and my websites have been neglected lately, I decided to go back for sentimental reasons. Silly me!

      Steve Jobs was a maverick, and no one can ever replace a maverick. You can find a replacement for an organization man like John Sculley, but it's almost impossible to find a replacement for a maverick.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      Haven't seen you for awhile, Walter, glad you're back. Whether Steve Jobs could have survived the cancer or not, which seems unlikely as you point out, I know that Apple misses him, because their performance has fallen off considerably since he passed away. The man was a true visionary genius and the world mourns him. Great hub!

    • WalterPoon profile image
      Author

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Phoenix2327, you are right. Steve Jobs is a brilliant man. He's not stupid, more so when his own life is involved.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Wonderful hub, Walter. I think it's unfair for others who have never been in that situation to pass judgment on Mr. Jobs actions. My mother-in-law lived with cancer for 10 years, fighting tooth and nail every step of the way. Maybe she could have done things differently but that's not for us, her family to say. She made her choices and we supported her every step of the way.

    • WalterPoon profile image
      Author

      Poon Poi Ming 4 years ago from Malaysia

      Billybuc, I think I did tell you that I would be focusing on my websites that had been neglected after I joined HubPages...

      I believed that Steve Jobs was hoodwinked by his doctors into believing that Western medicine could save him, after his cancer had spread. My father-in-law had liver cancer and he died a year later, even though he was routinely undergoing chemotherapy.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good to see you again Walter. I wondered what happened to you.

      As for Jobs, I pass on making a judgement about his decision. Who is to say how I would react if in the same situation. Until someone has been, it is a bit silly to question the actions of another. :)

      Have a great week ahead.