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Was Jobs’ decision to delay surgery incorrect?

world Updated: Nov 02, 2011 00:06 IST
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When it came to health, did Steve Jobs make a stupid decision? It might seem so, from the broad outlines of what he did in 2003 when a CT scan and other tests found a cancerous tumour in his pancreas. Doctors urged him to have an operation to remove the tumour, but Jobs put it off and instead tried a vegan diet, juices, herbs, acupuncture and other alternative remedies.

Nine months later, the tumour had grown. Only then did he agree to surgery, during which his doctors found that the cancer had spread to his liver, according to the new biography by Walter Isaacson. Cancer eventually killed him.

The sequence of events has given rise to news articles and blogs based on 20/20 hindsight, speculating that if only Jobs had the surgery right away, doctors could have caught the cancer early, before it spread, and saved him.

But there is no way in this life to know what might have been — not in politics, baseball, romance or the stock market, and certainly not in sickness and health. Jobs’ wish to avoid or delay surgery was not unusual. And given the type of tumour he had and the way it was found, his decision to wait may not have been as ill considered, as it seems at first blush.

His wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, declined requests for an interview and for permission to speak to Jobs’ doctors. But she did allow one of them to comment briefly: Dr Dean Ornish, a friend of Jobs who is also a well-known advocate for using diet and lifestyle changes to treat and prevent heart disease.

Ornish said when the diagnosis was first made, he advised Jobs to have the surgery. But in an email, he added: “Steve was a very thoughtful person. In deciding whether or not to have major surgery, and when, he spent a few months consulting with a number of physicians and scientists worldwide.”

“This type of surgery is a big deal and not to be taken lightly. He had surgery when he decided it was what he wanted to do. Nobody could have been more thoughtful and intelligent about how he went about this.