As with his business ventures, so it was with his cancer. Jobs “kept his illness behind a firewall,” the Associated Press reported the morning after news broke that the innovator died at the age of 56. Apple released no more of a statement than that they lost a “visionary and creative genius, and the world ... lost an amazing human being.”
It was not known whether Jobs died from the rare form of pancreatic cancer that plagued him for seven years, or from complications from a liver transplant two years ago.
Despite the lack of details, Jobs’s role as the very public face of Apple put his illness on display along with his products.
At the annual MacWorld expo, Jobs would appear in his trademark jeans and turtleneck. The clothes never changed, and the even-keeled presentation remained the same. But the man’s dramatic weight loss ensured his illness was on people’s minds.
Apple watchers kept a close eye on his medical leaves of absence as chief executive — he took three in all. Jobs stepped down from his role in August, a sign many saw as his tacit acknowledgment that he would not recover from his cancer.
Jobs suffered from a tumor in his pancreas. Though pancreatic cancer is rare, it still affects some 40,000 people a year in the U.S. — almost all of whom die within five years of diagnosis. Patrick Swayze died of it in 2009, only a year after his diagnosis. Despite it hitting a smaller number of people, pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
Post health writer Jennifer LaRue Huget explained in 2008:
“It’s a baffling disease: Nobody knows what causes it, its symptoms are vague, and we don’t have a means of detecting it early; largely because the pancreas is buried deep in the abdomen and is a tricky organ to perform surgery on, we lack effective treatments. Chemo may buy time but rarely cures this cancer.”
At the time, Huget bemoaned that there is not much attention focused on the disease, in part because there are no celebrity spokespeople who survive long enough to take on that role.
Though Jobs never spoke out — and, sadly, did not survive — perhaps he will have an effect after all. He led by example, whether he spoke of it or not.