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Why cancer patients mourn loss of Steve Jobs.

While the world mourns Steve Jobs as a technological wizard, a prescient business strategist, and, as one political cartoonist put it, an iCon who took a bite out of the world's apple, cancer patients mourn the man.

In counseling patients, I have come to learn that when cancer claims the life of a celebrity - Ted Kennedy, Elizabeth Edwards, Farrah Fawcett, or Steve Jobs - the news takes on special significance for those fighting the disease.

At first, 1 wrongly assumed that the tears my clients shed after such deaths were not so different from the responses of most people - I'm including myself here - who in their most honest moments sheepishly admit to feeling a certain closeness to celebrities, having witnessed their lives through newspaper headlines, Twitter feeds, and the peekaboo lenses of paparazzi.

But the sorrow of cancer patients goes deeper than that when the disease wins.

In the days following the cancer death of a celebrity, I've seen a pall fall over waiting rooms, support groups, and psychotherapy sessions. One client called, sobbing, to schedule an extra session the week Elizabeth Edwards died.

I think Ms. Edwards' story resonated with women not only because of a shared disease. She also symbolized tragedies and triumphs entwined in the history of my patient, and many like her.

In her young life she had buried a child and believed in a man who betrayed her, but maintained her elegant composure as she prepared for the future of her surviving children.

In life's details, patients find connections to celebrities that seem as tangible and real as the paper gowns, chemotherapy drips, and stacks of bills that they imagine the celebrities endured just as they have. Ted Kennedy survived personal shame and family tragedy to make meaningful changes in peoples' lives.

Steve Jobs dropped out of college, founded a business with his buddies, and changed modern culture forever. Celebrities' lives, viewed from afar, capture hope and resilience, not just in their cancer stories, but in their life stories.

And therein lies a whispered belief: that if anyone could beat the disease, against all odds, it would be someone with the power of Ted Kennedy, the money of Steve Jobs, the seemingly invincible spirit of Elizabeth Edwards, who had survived so much.

Certainly the doors of secret clinical trials would open to them. Their surgeons, of course, would have to be the world's finest; their medical oncologists, the most brilliant; their struggles buoyed by the love of millions.

In truth, the clues to reality were there. Of course, it makes sense that Farrah Fawcett's beautiful blond hair must have come out in hand fuls in the shower. Steve Jobs dodged cancer's upper cut for such a long while, but the spotlight finally caught the gauntness of his face, the thinning of his blue jeaned legs, the look of inevitability in his brilliant eyes.

Perhaps cancer patients will find solace in his commencement speech at Stanford (Calif.) University in 2005, after the part where he confidently declared, "I'm fine now."

"No one wants to die," he said, the sunlight in his hair. "Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent."

He went on, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

I'm sure Steve Jobs, a very private man, endured much torment in his real life struggle, the one we were not privy to see. I'm certain he didn't want to die at 56, and he quite obviously had access to no secret escape plan from pancreatic cancer.

But in his words to young graduates, which can be watched on an iPad or listened to with an iPod, or called up on a Mac, he seemed to be speaking to the patients who may be feeling a special sense of despair today over his loss.

If you are noticing that your patients are especially contemplative in these days since Jobs' death, you might recommend the Jink so they can draw comfort by hearing his words themselves: "You've got to find what you love," Jobs said.

He even had an app for that.

Dr. FREED is a clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara, Calif. She has worked as a medical journalist for more than 25 years and has no disclosures.

BETSY BATES FREED, Psy, D.
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Author:Freed, Betsy Bates
Publication:Clinical Psychiatry News
Date:Dec 1, 2011
Words:805
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