Why Steve Jobs Refused a Potentially Life-Saving Surgery

Illustration for article titled Why Steve Jobs Refused a Potentially Life-Saving Surgery

Walter Isaacson, the author of the upcoming official Steve Jobs biography, told 60 minutes that Steve Jobs refused what could have potentially been a life-saving surgery. Remember, though Jobs had pancreatic cancer, he also had a very rare form that was treatable through surgery. Jobs didn't want that surgery.

Jobs' reasoning was that he "didn't want [his] body to be opened" and that "he didn't want to be violated in that way." That falls in line with who Jobs was spiritually, but why ignore a treatment when his life was at stake? Isaacson, who had numerous conversations with Jobs, says:

"I think that he kind of felt that if you ignore something, if you don't want something to exist, you can have magical thinking…we talked about this a lot. He wanted to talk about it, how he regretted it….I think he felt he should have been operated on sooner."


He eventually had the surgery, some 9 months later, due to pressure from his family and friends, but at that point, the cancer had spread to the tissue around the original cancer. Isaacson said that Jobs downplayed the severity of his illness, even receiving cancer treatment in secret but eventually came to regret his decision to delay the surgery. There's bound to be more about Steve Jobs during 60 Minutes interview with Walter Isaacson—it airs on Sunday. [CBS news]

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As a cancer doctor, I meet tons of people like this. They just can't fathom the ruthless, inexorable pattern that cancer is often bound to follow—and how lucky they might be having caught their cancer early. Should I grab and shake them and yell at them? Camp out on their doorstep? Threaten them with verbal abuse? I really know what's in their best interest sometimes (and sometimes I don't!), and wonder if I should try to force the issue. Couple doctors' reticence to badger patients with Jobs' stature and pre-eminence (and stubbornness and feeling he could "think it away"), and you had a real tragic recipe.