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