Three years ago this week, I lay prone in a hospital bed, being treated for a pulmonary embolism and other complications from cancer-related surgery. It was not a fun time. Then, Kate walked into the room, turned off the television, took my iPhone from the table next to my bed, and seized my iPad.
"What gives?" I asked. "I didn't want you to find out from someone else," she replied. Those are words you definitely don't want to hear. My mind started racing. Was my embolism out of control? Did the pathology report indicate more cancer? I just stared into Kate's eyes, which I normally do with admiration for their beauty but now with concern. She placed her hands on my shoulders, put her face next to mine, and whispered: "Steve Jobs just died." Oh God. Not him. Not now. Tears welled up in my eyes, streamed down my cheek, and as I lay in that hospital bed, I felt the same might happen to me.
Jobs had been a huge influence on my life. For the longest time, it was as a consumer of his many products by Apple. I had used Macintosh computers since the late 1980s, and more recently the i-suite: iPods, iPhones, iPads. I always loved the design of these products and their ease of use. Moreover, as an early Apple customer, I liked being part of a counter-culture. There is something in me that bonds with underdogs over favorites, and in computing Apple was my underdog, introducing me to others who shared the same bond. And I would always buy the latest product from Apple, and rejoice in what it allowed me to do and how it made me feel.
I also admired Jobs' relentless pursuit of perfection, the trust he had in his own instincts, and not taking the easy way out by seeking consensus or ruffling feathers. A feather ruffler, he was. A true dichotomy: he could be a real jerk in how he treated people, yet he also could motivate them to do incredible things. Apple had been a deep part of my personality, and Jobs had been Apple.
But fancy gadgets aside, I grew to root for Jobs for another reason: he had pancreatic cancer. Initially, my rooting had a bit of selfishness to it. Jobs ran the company I loved the most, and I wanted to him to continue innovating great products I want to use. His disease tormented him for roughly seven years. And at each Apple event, I would see the physical toll that cancer and its treatments were taking on his body. The strong, fit genius began to show up looking much thinner and gaunt. His trademark black turtleneck shirt looked quite a bit bigger on his body. The jeans he normally wore began to fall off him. His face lost a good amount of its normal color.
Having seen his physical deterioration, my feelings began to change. Um, Jim, it's not about Stevo being around so you can continue to get more fun stuff. Instead, I began to feel admiration, true admiration, for Jobs as a human being. What he must be going through, no one should have to endure. And yet, he keeps going and going. What inner strength he must have! I didn't know the ins and outs of his condition, surgeries and treatments, but, wow, man, am I rooting for you.
Then I was diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer. And my whole relationship with Jobs changed again. Now, I knew. In the months and more ahead, I knew what the disease, treatments and surgeries do to a body, mind and spirit. They utter destroy you. Now, I knew. And so I began to follow Jobs' life from a whole different perspective. I read more about his condition and his treatments. I held my breath when I learned he was taking a medical leave from Apple. I grew scared when I learned of his cancer spreading. But then he returned to Apple, to roll out the latest, great product, and I felt totally uplifted. If he can survive his cancer, maybe I can, too. And if he can't...
My bond with Jobs was now as a cancer patient, and the outcomes of Jobs and other cancer patients affected my mind. I breathed more easily when I heard good stories from survivors. I took it hard when others died. And so when August 2011 came amount, I read that Jobs had given up the CEO position and said he'd become chairman. While many in the media wondered what this transition meant for Apple's future, I simply wanted to know what it meant for Steve. Is he going to be ok?
I didn't have much time to ponder the question. Within weeks, I entered the hospital for the surgery that would both save my life and almost kill me. My recovery was filled with agony and complications. So I wasn't thinking about Jobs as much as I would have liked. But he was there: Kate first knew something was wrong -- the early signs on my embolism -- when she saw me hallucinating: I was navigating an iPad with my fingers, but there was no iPad. Later, on that fateful day, she told me the news about Steve. Once I finally got home, my boys bought me a poster of Steve for inspiration, as I struggled with a long, difficult recovery and lifestyle adjustment.
Three years later, it is still difficult to think that a person so strong and so vibrant, a mind so powerful, could be struck down by a disease. But, you know what, that is life. Life is finite, and something ultimately will take us all. Our purpose, my purpose, it to make the most of each day. We don't know how many we have, so we shouldn't waste them. Each morning, I thank God for giving me that particular day. I decide what I am going to do that day to make things better for my wife and kids. I spend the day determined to have one, unique experience that puts a smile on someone else's face or one on my own. And I reflect on those moments at night. Then God willing, I get to get up and do it again.
At his last event with Apple, this one announcing the second generation iPad and right after I had been just diagnosed, Jobs wrapped up his keynote with something special: he spoke of his admiration for the families of his employees. He knew how hard his staff worked to make the latest Apple gadget great, and that their efforts had perhaps deprived them of more time with those they loved. He wanted to say he appreciated all of them, and would look to help them going forward. Jobs' last public moment was not a marketing pitch. It was not a technology vision or a cultural comment. It was about family.
Three years later, there is one less person in the family.