Apple had a wonderful advertising campaign which featured historical footage of great figures who thought different and changed history (link here to see advert.). For all of Steve Jobs' creative genius and drive his amazing ability to “think different” didn’t seem to serve him in his own health care. There is a lesson here for us all.
It is reported that Jobs died from a rare, less aggressive type of pancreatic cancer called an islet cell neuroendocrine tumor. This potentially could have been treated successfully with surgery. He opted for acupuncture, herbs, and a vegan diet for 9 months rather than surgery because, according to his biographer, he did not want to be cut open. Even Steve Jobs later regretted his decision not to choose surgery sooner. (See Forbes Magazine: Steve Jobs Cancer Treatment Regrets)
There is an implication in this story that acupuncture, herbs and dietary changes are bad for cancer patients, and that if Steve Jobs would have just listened to his doctor he may have been cured. This needs to be clarified.
Common sense is not always so common. Choosing natural cancer treatments over toxic or highly invasive treatments has a role, but it is generally not at the beginning stages of cancer treatment, when there is curative intent. Conventional cancer therapies may be improved with greater insight into drugs, cancer growth pathways and the ways both natural and pharmaceutical work against cancer growth. It must be emphasized there is scientific literature on the synergistic collaboration between natural and pharmaceutical cancer therapies, not just the potential of bad herb drug interactions. (footnote)
Had Mr. Jobs opted for surgery, the role of natural medicine could have been to get him ready for surgery, help him recover, and then analyze tumor pathology, genetic markers, lifestyle factors and his constitution to create a personalized prevention program. Natural Medicine is not against conventional care, rather they should be in collaboration. This is the common sense that is not so common, and the “thinking different” that is more cutting edge than mainstream oncology.
Fear of untimely and miserable death from cancer complications is a big part of having cancer. This can lead patients to make emotional decisions about invasive and toxic treatments which don’t involve a lot of common sense. An example of this was a patient who called me with invasive breast cancer. She wanted to do natural treatments first, and then if that didn’t work, have surgery later. I told her that she was getting the order wrong.
The knowledge needed to make decisions in this environment is benefited by understanding the literature of conventional and non-conventional cancer treatments. Treating cancer is about the specifics of the situation. Below are three examples of ways where oncology standards of care can be questioned, and where natural medicine works with conventional drugs in specific situations.
- Herceptin, a drug used for Her2 Neu over-expression: Olive oil polyphenols was found to increase the effectiveness of the drug significantly. link here.
- Cisplatin: Astragalus-based herbal formulas help ameliorate toxic side effects of without blocking effectiveness of the drug, according to the Journal of Clinical Oncology. link here
- Tamoxifen: Some women do not have proper activity of the CYP2D6 liver enzymes to convert Tamoxifen into its active form yet are prescribed it anyway. link here. There are natural medicine protocols for women who won't derive benefit from Tamoxifen.
There are other examples in which completely non-pharmaceutical approaches may be appropriate, particularly in slow growing cancers and in stage IV disease when the goal is palliation of symptoms, rather than cure.
I do not blame Steve Jobs’ acupuncturist for leading him astray down a natural medicine path that would eventually kill him. I am confident that Mr. Jobs had a unique and willful personality that he brought to his personal care in the same way he brought his ability to “Think different" to his career.