In October 2003, as the computer world buzzed about what cool new gadget he would introduce next, Apple CEO Steve Jobs - then presiding over the most dramatic corporate turnaround in the history of Silicon Valley - found himself confronting a life-and-death decision.
During a routine abdominal scan, doctors had discovered a tumor growing in his pancreas. While a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is often tantamount to a swiftly executed death sentence, a biopsy revealed that Jobs had a rare - and treatable - form of the disease. If the tumor were surgically removed, Jobs' prognosis would be promising: The vast majority of those who underwent the operation survived at least ten years.
Yet to the horror of the tiny circle of intimates in whom he'd confided, Jobs was considering not having the surgery at all. A Buddhist and vegetarian, the Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) CEO was skeptical of mainstream medicine. Jobs decided to employ alternative methods to treat his pancreatic cancer, hoping to avoid the operation through a special diet - a course of action that hasn't been disclosed until now.
For nine months Jobs pursued this approach, as Apple's board of directors and executive team secretly agonized over the situation - and whether the company needed to disclose anything about its CEO's health to investors. Jobs, after all, was widely viewed as Apple's irreplaceable leader, personally responsible for everything from the creation of the iPod to the selection of the chef in the company cafeteria. News of his illness, especially with an uncertain outcome, would surely send the company's stock reeling. The board decided to say nothing, after seeking advice on its obligations from two outside lawyers, who agreed it could remain silent.
In the end, Jobs had the surgery, on Saturday, July 31, 2004, at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, near his home. The revelation of his brush with death remained - like everything involving Jobs and Apple - a tightly controlled affair. In fact, nary a word got out until Jobs' tumor had been removed. The next day, in an upbeat e-mail to employees later released to the press, he announced that he had faced a life-threatening illness and was "cured." Jobs assured everyone that he'd be back on the job in September. When trading resumed a day after the announcement, Apple shares fell just 2.4%.
Apple entertained no further questions about Jobs' health, citing the CEO's need for privacy. No one learned just how long Jobs had been sick - or that he had contemplated not having the surgery at all. "It was very traumatic for all of us," recalls one of those in whom Jobs confided, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the topic's sensitivity. "We all really care about Steve, and it was a serious risk for the company as well. It was a very emotional and very difficult time. This was one page in the adventure."
Posted by aalkon at March 5, 2008 6:00 AM
A Buddhist and vegetarian, the Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) CEO was skeptical of mainstream medicine.
That sentence kind of bothers me. I'm guessing Jobs is a Tibetan Buddhist since he's so big on the medical woo, but it seems lazy/ignorant to imply Buddhism in general is skeptical of mainstream medicine or any more inclined to crackpottery than other religions. A Zen Buddhist wouldn't be any more reluctant to have the surgery than a Catholic. If Jobs happened to be be a Christian Scientist I really doubt Elkind would have written "A Christian and vegetarian, the Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) CEO was skeptical of mainstream medicine."
Posted by: SeanH at March 5, 2008 9:57 AM
Par for the course in Big Business, no? Spielberg's flying on one kidney nowadays, but people don't talk about it much.
Successful silicon valley entrepeneurs (sp?) are actually *worse* than movie stars... Everywhere they turn, they find flattery and accomodation. They don't even have tabloids to remind them who's who
Posted by: Crid at March 5, 2008 9:58 AM
Besides, didn't everybpdy know abotu Jobs' illness at the time? Hell, I knew about it, and this isn'tt exactly in the center of the IT business.
Posted by: Crid at March 5, 2008 10:02 AM
What's wrong with being sceptical of mainstream medicine?
In this particular case, he was sceptical of the treatment offered, and probably got a few other opionins from mainstream doctors, as well as naturopaths, etc. Since what was offered was not a cure, because there is no cure for cancer yet (is there?), and probably because the tumour was slow growing, he didn't see the need to rush into anything.
I always thought decisions to do with health should be based on scientific facts, nomatter where they come from.
He did get the surgery done afterall, but he's not cured of cancer.
Posted by: Chrissy at March 5, 2008 10:47 AM
There are no scientific facts behind wheat grass or homeopathy or any of the other woo cures for cancer. Read the Orac link above.
I'm all for skepticism in every arena in life, but the grey-skinnned person at the health food store, and the Hulda Clarks of the world do not have a cure for your cancer, merely for all that excess cash you've been amassing.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 5, 2008 11:23 AM
Bottom line is, neither regular medicine or herbal woowoo stuff cures cancer. I guess you just have to do the research on the pros and cons of all treatments and see which ones you find the least distasteful.
Posted by: Chrissy at March 5, 2008 12:03 PM
There's a word for people who take the likes of massive vitamin C injections in their ass for cancer: Dead.
Modern medicine is effective on many forms of cancer. Treatments are unpleasant to downright horrible, but if the alternative is a headstone, thanks, I'll take the chemotherapy, etc.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 5, 2008 12:18 PM
So this is an interesting case, and it looks like it put the Apple board in a legal bind. On the one hand, they are required by securities laws to disclose to investors any "material" facts, and presumably a serious health condition impacting their charismatic CEO is a material fact. On the other hand, they have the HIPPA laws telling them that they cannot disclose medical information without Jobs' consent, which presumably he did not grant. Catch-22.
Posted by: Cousin Dave at March 5, 2008 1:08 PM
I've mentioned this before, but my mother-in-law has had cancer twice and refused extended treatment each time. She did let them remove the tumor, eventually, but refused any sort of chemo or radiation pills. Instead she traveled around the world trying other things that we're just too close minded to admit works, evidentially. Things like electroshock therapy and body cleansing. Then she got it a second time (even worse), not a big surprise to any of us. This time she starved herself only drinking watered down juice and some mix of oil essences for an entire month and declared herself cured. We begged her to talk to her doctor about this, and she said that it didn't matter because her weird woo-woo doctor said it was fine. I doubt weakening your body when fighting off cancer falls under "fine" in any definition.
Every single person she knew was against her on this, but she was so set against "Big Pharmaceutical" was trying to get her money she wouldn't listen for a second. She’s at an age where she won’t be eligible for treatment if she gets it again, there’s nothing like the pain of watching someone most likely kill themselves for the most dimwitted of reasons.
Posted by: Stacy at March 5, 2008 2:17 PM
I don't think there's anything wrong with adding whatever voodoo you believe might work to a medical solution...provided its not something your doctor and your honest research says is dangerous. Whether your head has any role in helping you get better or not, I don't know, but placebo's seem to work sometimes, so perhaps believing your addition gives you an advantage, might actually give you an advantage. Of course, that's a bunch of irrational claptrap, but I've yet to be faced with a life threatening illness, so not sure how my rationality would hold out!
Posted by: moreta at March 5, 2008 4:03 PM
Perhaps Jobs was counting on the famous Reality Distortion Field to trick the cancer into remission!
Posted by: BlogDog at March 5, 2008 4:25 PM
Actually, you have to be careful that "voodoo" does not conflict with the prescribed medicines.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 5, 2008 5:53 PM
I wouldn't be surprised if this had a little of the typical anti-Apple slant. Not only did the "turnaround" actually happen in winter 1995, with the intro of the iMac and stock moving from $14 to $85/share with Jobs' return, they have never had as small a market share as that notorious business failure, Lexus.
I hear that van Gogh dude cut his ear off. What a loser.
Yes, it's dumb to take the less-sure treatment, but not so dumb to the person who might have a near-phobia about getting cut -- or about anesthesia muddling their happily-clear thinking. Hey! I've heard that one before! At any rate, I am most pleased that the right course has been taken, finally, and the ship of popular technology still has her captain. Hey, don't hate him for being reluctant to see what turned out to be best for him. Hate him for inspiring people to actually get Apple tattoos!
Posted by: Radwaste at March 5, 2008 11:56 PM
What is this about mainstream medicine not curing cancer? Does having an operation to remove a tumour not count? It may or may not be successful depending on how far the cancer has progressed before the operation. But it's not an "alternative" operation involving chicken blood. If the conditions are right, you don't have cancer any more - not simply faith that you don't have cancer any more. The conditions don't depend on the positions of the planets or whether you have a positive outlook on life.
Mainstream medicine can, and does regularly, cure cancer.
Steve Jobs is old enough to make his own decisions, on whatever basis he wants. Even if you don't agree with him, you should support that right. Otherwise it won't be long before some one knows what's best for you, whether you agree or not.
Posted by: Norman at March 6, 2008 12:39 AM
I'm not talking about forced medical treatment for functioning adults, which I'm certainly not for, just distressed that the guy's such an irrational idiot.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 6, 2008 2:17 AM
I'm just thankful that we can make our own decisions about what to do with our bodies, even if other people don't agree with it.
When a tumour is surgically removed, it's just a symptom being taken out of the body. Why did it grow in the first place? What's to say it won't grow again somewhere else? There's the bigger picture here.
Posted by: Chrissy at March 6, 2008 7:19 AM
Chrissy, I'm always stunned that, in 2007, people think as you appear to -- above -- and as Jobs appears to -- that herbs and evidence-based medicine are equally effective, or that maybe herbs are better.
Wonder all you want about your tumor, but have somebody cut it out of you, or you're not going to live to keep wondering.
Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 6, 2008 7:35 AM
Chrissy, there's nothing to say you won't get another tumour after removing the first one. In fact I would not be surprised if you're more likely to than the rest of the population. But don't belittle symptomatic relief.
Posted by: Norman at March 6, 2008 2:21 PM
He's just another person with a God complex to me.
Posted by: Don at March 7, 2008 1:18 PM
It's amazing how much we think we know about other people based on stories in the same media we know are wrong about us.
Posted by: Radwaste at March 9, 2008 8:44 AM
I've never said that I believe in herb based treatments. I believe in evidence based medicine, and I just think that there are plenty of unanswered questions when it comes to cancer. Since I don't have cancer (why would you say I am more likely to have it than the rest of the population, Norman-that's a little weird), I have the luxury to ask these questions. I'm not belittling symptomatic relief either, I'm stating what I've read in various medical journals (I CAN read and I'm pretty smart and very analytical).
The probability of getting cancer is partially hereditary and partially environmental, Norman. There is no history of any kind of cancer on either side of my family, and I've got a fairly healthy lifestyle, so do try to prevent getting cancer as much as I can, according to current knowledge in that area, so I don't think I'm more likely to get it.
I understand there is a lot of fear surrounding this topic, but I refuse to live in fear, and prefer to get facts.
Posted by: Chrissy at March 10, 2008 5:58 PM