Steve Jobs Health and Our “Right” to Know


If you take a close look at the site over any given period of time you’ll notice that there are some types of content you see elsewhere that is rare here are Gear Diary. You won’t find a lot of posts having to do with the latest rumor coming from the blogosphere; after all these are simply rumors, and more often than not they end up being false in the end anyway.

This is particularly the case with Apple, although I’ll admit that when it’s a day or two before a key press announcement, if the overwhelming consensus is that the rumor has merit, then we will cover it. But I digress.

But speaking of Apple, you won’t see us writing a great deal about Steve Jobs’s health. Yes, there is an argument be made that since Apple is so intertwined with the personal issues of his health that it is also an issue of Apple’s business; to see the effect his health has had on the business, one need look no further than at how Apple stock has performed with the release of each new rumor about his health. At the same time, however, we are not his doctors; we don’t really know what’s going on with him, and he chooses to keep his health issues private. This is something that the editors of Gear Diary have chosen to respect.

There have been a lot of articles about the pros and cons of covering Jobs’ ongoing health issues, but perhaps the best one appeared this morning over on Cult of Mac. In his post We Could All Learn From Steve Jobs’ Example [Opinion from a Cancer Survivor], author Graham Bower writes,

Steve Jobs chooses not to talk about his cancer. He prefers to focus on his work. We should respect his choice.

When someone is not well the last thing they need is a lot of people making a fuss about it. And if someone chooses to keep their health matters consult, the races should be respected. No one has a right to know about anyone else’s medical condition.

He goes on with the crux of the matter:

Discussing someone’s health status in public, and speculating about their prognosis is disrespectful, and unnecessarily negative.”

And Graham knows what he’s talking about from personal experience, for he too was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy a few years ago.

Again, I understand the argument that says that because Jobs is so intertwined with Apple, his health issues are a matter of Apple’s business. But I can’t help but think of the Hebrew expression ?? ????, which translates to “there has to be a boundary” … because it’s true, and it strikes close to home.

A number of years ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It leaves me feeling pain and mind numbingly fatigued at times. It resulted in one wrist being fused and the other rapidly deteriorating. It has also resulted in my need to manage my time and my energy differently than before. If I know I’m going out for late night meetings, then I KNOW I can’t get into the office at first light the way I used to. And I know that whatever I’m doing, I need to make sure that I hold a certain amount of energy in reserve so that I can address emergencies as they arise. It also meant that I needed to start taking my one day off each week as a true day off, resting during it. This also happens the day I do the bulk of my writing for this site; I’m using Dragon Dictate so I don’t have to use my hands and relying upon Judie to edit my sometimes unintelligible posts.

The arthritis meant that ?? ???? – “there have to be some boundaries” … but the only one who could make them was me.

Because these changes were going to affect some of my visibility at times, I chose to tell my Board of Directors what was going on and how I was going to manage it. I wasn’t offering excuses, and I didn’t need them to do anything. I did however believe that they should know what was going on, and how I would address what is otherwise a 24/7 position when I needed to become a 12/6 position. I mentioned my plan to tell the board to one of my older leaders who said, “You can’t do that. Don’t tell anyone. People need to think that you’re in the best possible health of anyone.” At that moment I realized, if you’re dealing with a health issue, it’s nobody’s business but yours what you share, when you share it, and to whom you share. I told my board, and they were nothing but supportive. That was six or seven years ago.

As it says in that article over on Cult of Mac

None of us are immune from occasional sickness. All of us need to be given the space to get well, in our own way, and with the help of qualified medical professionals.

There was, however, one thing the article with which I do disagree. Toward the end he writes:

If you know someone who is living with cancer, the best way to help them is the focus on the positives, given the space to tell you as much or as little as they choose, any open-minded about what they are able to achieve.

To this I would say,

If you know someone who is living with any illness you have no clue what the best way to help them. But here’s an idea… Ask.

Read: We Could All Learn From Steve Jobs’ Example [Opinion from a Cancer Survivor]

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

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