Steve Jobs: helped or hurt by New Medicine?

One time hippie acidhead said to have regretted delay in surgery

Prize conformist Walter Isaacson leads in owning Jobs story from inside vantage point

Sixty Minutes interview sketches outline of Jobs’ fate but more data needed

There is something predictable about the way journalists and people with an axe to grind on an issue glom onto the story of an individual hero’s life and death to confirm and promote their own cliched preconceptions, rather than seek the balanced truth.

On the questions surrounding Steve Jobs’ early departure from his very successful life, for instance, we have conventional doctors who are making him an example of someone who ruined his chances by avoiding their always ultimately hopeless ministrations for nine months versus those who appreciate the hitherto neglected but increasingly apparent advantages of nutritional weapons against cancer.

Steve Jobs Bad Boy

Among journalists, on the other hand, there is general agreement that Steve Jobs had a dark side which involved holding those he found lacking to account rather mercilessly, even in public. He typically tonguelashed them for not trying hard or long enough to meet the standards he set, it seems, when in fact they might have been trying very hard and despite themselves were simply not up to speed in skill or mental energy, or had other reasons not to have matched Jobs’ expectations.

But did Jobs’ have a mean streak? We doubt that, even though Steve Jobs didn’t suffer fools gladly. Was it because he wanted to frighten or hurt the objects of his wrath? Surely not. We’d guess he was actually respecting them by treating them as equals, speaking his mind honestly and indignantly, if far too forcefully for timid underlings.

Surely Jobs was too busy chasing the hare of actual achievement to indulge in power plays, particularly cruel ones. One of his most charming quotes has him saying after his first successful IPO for Apple, “I went from not caring about money and being poor to not caring about money and being rich.” Jobs’ visions were founded in reality not fantasy, and he took no pleasure in trappings.

We imagine that on the emotional level he probably couldn’t understand why they couldn’t get with the program, when he was devoting his life to it. It must be hard for a strong minded obsessive to realize that others might be very smart too and have great love and loyalty for him, but still not always be able to produce the goods demanded.

It must be doubly difficult for someone with abandonment issues, as so many detect in Jobs history and behavior, to be a temperate leader, and not see others failing him as abandonment in a life which was marked by other huge abandonments, most significantly after his adoption when Apple cut him loose in in the middle of producing the Lisa, but also his own perpetrated on his girlfriend when she got pregnant. He would be too deeply channeled into leftover infantile rage, would he not? And many ask if Apple would have ever be pulled back from ruin without his slave driving whip.

Noblesse oblige, please, Steve, for sure, but we don’t join the chorus who say you had a cruel streak, however devastating your tongue might have been to gentler souls.

Steve Jobs inventor par excellence

In the same line we also have tired of the incessant mantra of “genius” invoked in every contemplation of Jobs’ savvy of how to turn tangled techware into universal love toy. It was uniquely clever market ball gazing, but as Janet Maslin noted in the Times, it ain’t special relativity. It was invention of a high order typically drawing on ideas which others had left lying around for someone smart and purposeful to use, allied to a very sensible disregard for authority and convention in dreaming up the new and unique.

We believe that Jobs’ main secrets were a) his early intake of LSD, which seems to blast the cobwebs of convention out of the minds of all who try it, if they don’t kill themselves jumping out of a window to fly to the moon, and b) the Syrian carpet salesman gene he must have inherited from his father, who Jobs seems to have taken against for his later abandoning his (Jobs’) natural mother and her daughter, who turned out to be a respected novelist (Mona Simpson).

These factors – liberation from the unconscious authority of convention and the desire to sell to the whole world what he made – are what led to Jobs having the innate sense to try and make ideal products, good looking and usable, instead of the best effort successes made by ordinary tech mortals, and put these objets d’art-tech in the hands of consumers who had no previous idea they wanted them, until they saw their beauty and their simplicity with their own eyes and caressed it hands on.

How could a smart man be so dumb?

Be that as it may (and possibly none of the business of this researched based scientific blog), what of the strange partial record now available of the cause of his death?

With his biography of Steve Jobs hot off the presses tomorrow Walter Isaacson, biographer of Franklin and Einstein, and president of the Aspen Institute talkfest, is the current go to source on all things Jobsian.

He is peddling (as interviewed tonight on 60 Minutes) a fairly standard though well phrased and very full account of the way Jobs lived and behaved and why, one which doesn’t seem from tonight’s interview to vary much from the fairly mundane cliches of all the recent obituaries on Jobs in the New York Times, Time, New Yorker etc, though it does have the direct authority of the forty interviews Isaacson carried out wherein Jobs evidently spoke freely.

Isaacson witness to Steve Job’s surrender to docs

But his chosen biographer is more of a transcriber and reporter than deep thinker, it seems. As his Aspen Institute role indicates Walter Isaacson is a paid up member of the professional publishing elite as much as a mere author (he is also an ex-head of CNN and ex-managing editor of Time), and he has an amiable crowd pleasing mentality who has surely done a workmanlike job of knitting together all he finds out from not only from Jobs but exgirlfriends, employees, and rivals, but how deeply informative and insightful is his job going to be?.

He doesn’t seem to be the type who might have evoked a deep and sympathetic discussion with Jobs of any unconventional notions in medicine he might have tried. Instead Isaacson seems likely to have been an extension of all the family friends and colleagues who are now revealed to have put great pressure on Jobs to go the conventional route back to health as fast as possible, despite the familiarity he must have worked up in forty interviews listening to Jobs reminisce up till nearly his end.

We say that as a preamble to one key fact which has emerged which is that Isaacson is reporting in his book that Jobs avoided surgery at first for nine months in favor of treating his ailments with some kind of nutritional approaches and later said he regretted the delay in performing surgery to excise his pancreative cancer.

Sixty Minutes features Jobs on tape

This emerged tonight in the interview Isaacson gave Sixty Minutes tonight (Sun Oct 23) to promote what is surely going to be a blockbuster best seller. It follows the Times review of his book on Friday, headed as Making the iBio for Apple’s Genius, by Janet Maslin, who told us that Isaacson suggests that the cancer might have been better treated by earlier surgery:

“Of course the book also tracks Mr. Jobs’s long and combative rivalry with Bill Gates. The section devoted to Mr. Jobs’s illness, which suggests that his cancer might have been more treatable had he not resisted early surgery, describes the relative tenderness of their last meeting.”

That’s apparently what Isaacson concluded from what Jobs told him.

Now in the 60 Minutes interview voiceover Steve Kroft states that “the cancer which eventually killed him was discovered accidentally when he was checked in 2004 for kidney stones. The CAT scan showed a shadow in his pancreas which turned out to be malignant. ”

Isaacson says “they did the biopsy and it was very emotional but that turned out to be good actually they said it was a slow growing cancer one of the 5% of pancreatic cancers that can be cured. But he didn’t do it straight away. He tried to treat it with diet and he goes to a spiritualist. He goes to various ways of doing it macrobiotically and he doesn’t get an operation.”

“Why didn’t he get an operation straightway?” asks Steve Kroft.

“I asked him that and he told me “I didn’t want my body to be opened.” And soon everybody was telling him to quit trying to treat it with all these roots and vegetables and just get operated on. But he does it nine months later,” replies Isaacson with a slight grimace at the unfortunate mistake Jobs made.

“Too late?” asks Steve Kroft.

“Well I assume it’s too late because by the time it was operated on it had spread to the tissues around the pancreas.”

Was Jobs a fool for avoiding surgery?

“How could such a smart man do such a stupid thing?” asks Steve Kroft.

The answer, for Isaacson, is that Jobs believed too much in “magical thinking”:

“You know I think he kind of felt that if you ignore something if you don’t want something to exist you can have magical thinking. And it had worked for him in the past. He regretted some of the decisions he made and certainly he felt that he should have been operated on sooner.”

Clearly Isaacson has not the first clue that mainstream research is now continually justifying trying phytochemicals on cancers of all kinds including pancreatic, rather than going the conventional route, especially in pancreatic cancer, which is 95% fatal in nine months or less.

The voice over commentary by Steve Kroft goes on to say “Jobs continued to have cancer treatments even though he was telling everyone he had been cured. And that is what people believed until 2008.”

“All of a sudden” says Isaacson “people are gasping because he looks so frail and has lost so much weight. Suddenly people are realizing that he is very sick again. He denies it publicly. He puts out things that there is a hormonal imbalance which has a tiny kernel of truth to it because his liver was secreting the wrong hormones but it wasn’t just a hormonal imbalance it was that the cancer had gone to his liver. He was trying to deny it to himself and he was denying it to the public and this was a (business) problem of course.”

Steve Kroft goes on to note that Jobs finally took a leave of absence and in March of 2009 received a secret liver transplant in Memphis that wasn’t publicly acknowledged until three months later. “The doctors that did the operation could tell the cancer had spread.”

Isaacson says the last two and a half years were “a painful, brutal struggle and he would talk often to me about the pain.”

Given that his liver was a transplant after the first one was ruined by years of chemotherapy, and his immune system was switched off by immune suppressing drugs after that transplant, and that his pancreas was damaged, so his whole digestive system could hardly handle protein, it is painful to contemplate what Jobs must have gone through.

Steve Kroft ended this topic of discussion with these final lines before moving on: “Jobs survived nearly eight years with his cancer and in his final meeting with Isaacson in mid August still held out hope that there might be one new drug that could save him.”

Times’ earlier hints

That’s the last of the 60 Minutes material on Jobs’ illness and its treatment. A couple more points may be gleaned from the Steve Lohr Times piece on Friday based on their advance look at the book, however.

This is Jobs Tried Exotic Treatments to Combat Cancer, Book Says The subhead is “Steve Jobs’s early decision to put off surgery and rely on less conventional treatments angered and upset his family”.

Steve Lohr’s report centers on the news that Jobs’ attempt to use alternative nutritional treatment for his supposedly safer and slower moving version of the normal quickly fatal pancreatic cancer ran into heavy disapproval from his friends and colleagues, who mounted a continual barrage of advice to stop that nonsense (spelled “nonscience”) and undertake standard surgery and chemo sooner rather than later.

Both sides were presumably under-informed of the latest mainstream research on phytochemicals, even though Jobs is said to have researched the conventional techniques of intervention very intensively once he took them up, about nine months after his diagnosis, when he opted for surgery.

In the mind of mainstream medical science congregationist Timesman Steve the choice was evidently one between “exotic diets” and “cutting-edge treatments”, which betrays a fairly universal bias in medical reporting against alternatives in medicine and surgery, one very misleading to readers.

In his last years, Steven P. Jobs veered from exotic diets to cutting-edge treatments as he fought the cancer that ultimately took his life, according to a new biography to be published on Monday.

His early decision to put off surgery and rely instead on fruit juices, acupuncture, herbal remedies and other treatments — some of which he found on the Internet — infuriated and distressed his family, friends and physicians, the book says. From the time of his first diagnosis in October 2003, until he received surgery in July 2004, he kept his condition largely private — secret from Apple employees, executives and shareholders, who were misled….

He paid $100,000 for instance to have not only his genes sequenced but the genes of his cancer.

Although the broad outlines of Mr. Jobs’s struggle with pancreatic cancer are known, the new biography, by Walter Isaacson, offers new insight and details. Friends, family members and physicians spoke to Mr. Isaacson openly about Mr. Jobs’s illness and his shifting strategy for managing it. According to Mr. Isaacson, Mr. Jobs was one of 20 people in the world to have all the genes of his cancer tumor and his normal DNA sequenced. The price tag at the time: $100,000.

DNA sequencing to combat cancer to help target drugs? In this and other ways the piece suggests that misinformation and misunderstanding were rife in the thinking of Jobs and his advisers. Apparently none of them had ever heard of PubMed, let alone used it:

In October 2003, Mr. Jobs got the news about his cancer, which was detected by a CT scan. One of his first calls, according to the book, was to Larry Brilliant, a physician and epidemiologist, who would later become the head of Google’s philanthropic arm. The men went way back, having first met at an ashram in India.

“Do you still believe in God?” Mr. Jobs asked.

Mr. Brilliant spoke for a while about religion and different paths to belief, and then asked Mr. Jobs what was wrong. “I have cancer,” Mr. Jobs replied.

Mr. Jobs put off surgery for nine months, a fact first reported in 2008 in Fortune magazine.

The power of underinformed pressure

The pressure on Jobs from family and friends was unrelenting, it is clear. As usual, all those with unresearched faith in conventional medical treatment who had themselves fallen into its hands were utterly convinced of the futility of evading its clutches:

Friends and family, including his sister, Mona Simpson, urged Mr. Jobs to have surgery and chemotherapy, Mr. Isaacson writes. But Mr. Jobs delayed the medical treatment. His friend and mentor, Andrew Grove, the former head of Intel, who had overcome prostate cancer, told Mr. Jobs that diets and acupuncture were not a cure for his cancer. “I told him he was crazy,” he said.

Art Levinson, a member of Apple’s board and chairman of Genentech, recalled that he pleaded with Mr. Jobs and was frustrated that he could not persuade him to have surgery.

His wife, Laurene Powell, recalled those days, after the cancer diagnosis. “The big thing was that he really was not ready to open his body,” she said. “It’s hard to push someone to do that.” She did try, however, Mr. Isaacson writes. “The body exists to serve the spirit,” she argued.

When he did take the path of surgery and science, Mr. Jobs did so with passion and curiosity, sparing no expense, pushing the frontiers of new treatments. According to Mr. Isaacson, once Mr. Jobs decided on the surgery and medical science, he became an expert — studying, guiding and deciding on each treatment. Mr. Isaacson said Mr. Jobs made the final decision on each new treatment regimen.

The DNA sequencing that Mr. Jobs ultimately went through was done by a collaboration of teams at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Harvard and the Broad Institute of MIT. The sequencing, Mr. Isaacson writes, allowed doctors to tailor drugs and target them to the defective molecular pathways.

A doctor told Mr. Jobs that the pioneering treatments of the kind he was undergoing would soon make most types of cancer a manageable chronic disease. Later, Mr. Jobs told Mr. Isaacson that he was either going to be one of the first “to outrun a cancer like this” or be among the last “to die from it.”

That is all we learn from the Times so far. Notice the implied definition of alternative treatment as nonscience that Steve Lohr slips in:

“When he did take the path of surgery and science, Mr. Jobs did so with passion and curiosity, sparing no expense, pushing the frontiers of new treatments. According to Mr. Isaacson, once Mr. Jobs decided on the surgery and medical science…..”

Was Jobs ever told of recent pancreatic cancer research?

So did Jobs ever learn of the simple edible and non toxic antidotes which the latest mainstream research points to?

All we know is that a knowledgeable colleague forwarded a piece on the topic, a column on mainstream studies of the potential of phytochemicals in medicine and in particular pancreatic cancer, to a family member who happened to be a photograph gallery owner who knew Jobs through selling him hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Charles Adams and other prints, but never heard of any response to that overture. The column was forwarded in email and not marked up in red pencil which would have been ideal, so whether Jobs actually noticed the section referring to his specific ailment is unknown, since it was buried at the end of the piece.

More info needed for further analysis

Unfortunately therefore the discussion so far has to rest on speculation, but we are obtaining a copy of the book to see what more can be gleaned from Isaacson about how Jobs handled his treatment, secretive though he may have been.

In that further discussion we can review the prime specimen of establishment rationalization posted by a junior member of the Harvard Faculty on Quora, which blames alternative medicine as responsible for Jobs not getting ideal treatment.

However, the Quora piece is rife with what look to us to be logical inconsistencies so we look forward to deconstructing it and then summarizing what the universally neglected mounting current lab research on cells and mice has to offer on the topic of whether it could have saved Jobs from surgery, chemo and eventual death.

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