Clive James death was due to SCC, last interview reveals

Skin cancers

By Michael Woodhead

5 Dec 2019

The Australian author Clive James raised awareness of leukaemia by publicly sharing diagnosis for over the decade, but his death was caused by metastatic squamous cell carcinoma, according to the last journalist to interview him.

Writing in the Guardian, Rachel Cooke describes her meeting with James in Cambridge two months before his death, saying that the 80-year old was in poor health due to complications from a skin cancer on his scalp.

“I was shocked by the way his cancer had ravaged his face – contrary to reports last week, it wasn’t his leukaemia that killed him, but a metastatic squamous cell carcinoma,” she wrote.

“In other words, it was the Australian sunshine he absorbed in his youth that did for him in the end.”

Clive James was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in 2010, and wrote of his embarrassment at his unexpected survival after treatment with ibrutinib.

He was so grateful for the benefits of the drug that he wrote a poem about it Injury Time, describing it as a “cluster bomb of goodness”.

However he also had the endure side effects of treatment, which he described in an interview with Event magazine:

“I thought I was a goner two weekends ago when I woke up at 4.30 in the morning with a tongue bigger than my mouth. It was scary; you can’t believe you can breathe because you can’t swallow. I was nine hours at Addenbrooke’s Hospital getting antihistamines pumped into me through a vein”.

The author, who grew up in Kogarah, Sydney, was unable to return to his homeland after his diagnosis due to co-morbidities of emphysema and kidney failure.

Medical oncologist Professor Ian Olver, former head of the Cancer Council Australia, praised Clive James’ writing about his cancer saying it was part of his “valuable legacy”.

“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,” he wrote in The Conversation.

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