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Steve Jobs's Pancreatic Cancer: His Private Struggle

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Alexandra Wyman/Getty

In the public eye, Steve Jobs was a cutting-edge visionary with a knack for developing user-friendly technology. He was the man in the black turtleneck with an estimated $5.5 billion fortune, that guy who asked consumers to make a choice – Mac or PC.

But quietly, the infallible creative force behind Apple had his own personal battle outside the office. Jobs, who died Wednesday at 56, struggled with pancreatic cancer since 2004.

After resigning from his position as CEO in August, Jobs remained in the company as chairman. His letter to the board announcing the change did not mention his health problems, but he alluded to them.

“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, that day has come.”

Jobs suffered from a rare form of pancreatic cancer called pancreatic neurodendocrine cancer. It’s typically a less aggressive form of pancreatic cancer, so patients may live longer, the L.A. Times reports. The average survival rate is more than three years, while some patients live up to 20.

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There are several forms of treatment available, some of which involve liver transplants, which Jobs had in 2009.

About 44,030 new cases of pancreatic cancer were reported in the United States in 2001, according to the American Cancer Society. And the lifetime risk of having pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 71.

Jobs dealt with the illness while living in the public eye, “in such a graceful way,” Dr. Jack Jacoub, a medical oncologist at MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, told the L.A. Times. “You’d be hard pressed to find another person that did it on his terms.”

Except, perhaps, for Patrick Swayze, who also battled the disease in the spotlight for a year and a half before it took his life at age 57. Aretha Franklin was rumored to be suffering from pancreatic cancer as well, but the Queen of Soul never confirmed it and assured fans in early 2011 that her health problem has been “resolved.”

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The highly lethal disease also claimed well-known actor and comedian Jack Benny in 1974.

“Steve died peacefully today surrounded by his family,” his family said in a statement. “We are thankful to the many people who have shared their wishes and prayers during the last year of Steve’s illness.”