It has been more than three years since I lost my partner, Rand Harlan Skolnick, to pancreatic cancer. Until Rand was diagnosed on March 4, 2008, the only time I had ever heard of this disease was through Randy Pausch. He was the computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University and he inspired millions with his "Last Lecture," delivered shortly after his terminal diagnosis. Since Rand's death on July 4, 2008, however, pancreatic cancer has hit home harder, and in more ways than I could have imagined.
This week, we pay tribute to another remarkable man taken from the world by this terrible disease: Apple co-founder and Board Chairman Steve Jobs. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends and the entire Apple community. We have truly lost a great visionary who enriched the lives of millions through technologies that would never have existed without him. Although Jobs' life and death touched people all over the globe, this is a very private time for his family, and I hope the world will allow them to grieve in their own way. But that said, we must not overlook the disease that may have claimed Jobs' life, a disease that most Americans know very little about.
In June, I noted some grim statistics about pancreatic cancer. It is the only cancer tracked by the American Cancer Society that still has a survival rate in the single digits. In 2010 alone, nearly 37,000 Americans died from it. Yet, out of the top five killing cancers, it is by far the least funded. There can be little doubt that the public is simply not as aware of this disease as it ought to be. And that this lack of awareness has cost lives.
Since Rand's death (and since starting The Palette Fund, a private foundation that exists to carry on Rand's legacy), I have often spoken about the seemingly impossible barriers put before people with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, even for people that have access to the most advanced level of care available. Like Rand, Steve Jobs had this access. His death serves as a harsh reminder that pancreatic cancer is difficult to overcome no matter how great one's personal wealth or access to care may be.
Steve Jobs had a very rare form of pancreatic cancer. It has yet to be confirmed that it was pancreatic cancer that took his life, but his death may nonetheless help make the public aware of this tragic and life-altering disease. After all, what happened to Steve Jobs, despite his considerable resources, can happen to anyone.
I know that there is hope for the future. There is a key bill pending in Congress, the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, a bill that establishes a strategic plan and provides much-needed support for research into this disease. To date, it has amassed 165 sponsors in the House and 33 in the Senate.
It will be no easy task to pass this crucial legislation, but if enough people realize the scope of this disease and demand that their elected officials take action, we can take a huge step toward a healthier future. This could help all those who may someday experience the harshness of this disease. Change begins with us, and it can become a reality.
Is it possible that losing a man as recognizable and prolific as Steve Jobs will be what it takes for the community at large to stand up to pancreatic cancer? For his sake, for Rand's sake, and for the sake of the thousands of lives lost every year, I truly hope so. Steve Jobs' legacy will always be his ingenious inventions as well as how they changed the world. But my hope is that his legacy will also include the transformation of how we respond to the reality of the devastating disease that has taken this great man -- and so many others -- away from us so quickly and far too soon.