Illustration of Steve Jobs

Image by DonkeyHotey CC BY-SA 2.0

I was reading the book, Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, and came across what is nothing less than a startling series of events that eventually led to Steve Jobs’ untimely and way-too-early death at the age of 56 in 2011.

The story goes that in 2003, Steve was having a bout with kidney stones – a fairly common ailment that affects many people at one time or another. In treating the kidney stones, a CAT scan was taken of his kidney area that, inadvertently, picked up a suspicious spot on his pancreas.  After a needle biopsy, it was confirmed to be pancreatic cancer.

Normally when I hear of someone who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the disease is pretty far along, and there is not much you can do. But in Steve Jobs’ case, he was fortunate enough to identify the disease at what seemed like a very early stage. On top of that, and this is the really surprising part of the story, the kind of cancer Steve was diagnosed with was a rare and “milder” form of pancreatic cancer called islet cell or neuroendocrine tumor. This type of cancer only occurs 3-5% of the time and has a better overall prognosis than the more common type of pancreatic cancer.

The author of the book went on to say that instead of treating the pancreatic cancer with surgery right away, as his doctors had recommended, Steve waited nine months.  In that intervening time, he chose alternative treatments like vegan diets, blended fruit juices, body cleanses and the like.  A further medical review after nine months revealed that the cancer had progressed and, at that point, Steve agreed to have the surgery.

Now obviously we don’t have access to Steve’s personal medical records, and all of this is anecdotal, but doesn’t it seem reasonable that if Mr. Jobs had acted earlier, he might have improved his chances for survival?  He was apparently dealing with a milder form of pancreatic islet cell cancer that was caught – by accident – at an early stage.

Now why do I, a former prostate cancer patient, bring this up?  It’s because the way I look at it, many cases of prostate cancer are also supposed to be “mild” or slow growing.

Let’s be clear, I am certainly not comparing pancreatic cancer with prostate cancer – they are two very different diseases, and I am not a medical doctor – far from it. Therefore, I am not qualified to compare the two. But the fact that prostate cancer can often be described as slow growing sends up a red flag to me. Ok, so it’s slow growing, does that mean I should do nothing? Should I stick my head in the sand and hope it goes away?  Is it going to spontaneously disappear on its own? How do I know if my case is slow growing or aggressive?

Sorry, but the watchful waiting and active surveillance strategies were just not for me.  I chose to take action for my case of prostate cancer.  Only a medical doctor can advise you on your specific case.