Clive James has left a valuable legacy of astute observation and witty interpretation of his world through his writing. He has also left another legacy. He has increased public awareness of leukaemia by sharing his cancer diagnosis over the decade before his recent death.
“I’m getting near the end. I’m a man who is approaching his terminus.”
What is leukaemia?
Leukaemia is a cancer in the bone marrow where the white blood cells are formed. This results in the production of greatly increased numbers of abnormal white cells in the blood. These crowd out the production of normal blood cells.
Clive James had chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Around 1,000 Australians each year are diagnosed with this type. It’s most common in people over 60, and more common in men than women.
People can go to their doctor looking pale, and complaining of tiredness and breathlessness when exercising. They are anaemic (have low levels of red blood cells), and have high levels of white blood cells.
They may bruise easily and are prone to infections. Glands in the neck, the armpits and the groin may be swollen or there may be discomfort under the left rib cage because of a swollen spleen. They may have lost weight and have started to sweat at night.
Clive Jame’s multiple illnesses
People can become very unwell when multiple illnesses add to their symptoms, reducing their quality of life.
An example is emphysema, permanent damage to the lungs often associated with heavy smoking. This restricted Clive James from flying and therefore returning to visit his Australian birthplace in his last years.
Although unrelated to chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, emphysema could increase the likelihood of lung infections when paired with it. Other illnesses can also make a person too weak to tolerate the side effects of their leukaemia drugs.
Clive James entertained and informed us as he shared his observations on his life through decades of writing. So it is fitting he should be publicly sharing the health issues that resulted in his death. As such, he provided one last opportunity to educate his readers — in this instance about leukaemia.