RIP Clive James

Clive James, the Australian wit, broadcaster and poet died last Sunday at the age of 80, ten years after being diagnosed with CLL.

He wrote the best — the only? – poem about chemotherapy, specifically about Ibrutinib. the wonder drug that helped keep him and many thousands of others alive for a lot longer than expected. Here it is:


The Marvel Comic name should tip you off

That this new drug is heavy duty stuff.

You don’t get this one just to cure a cough.

A chemo pill, and powerful enough

To put the kibosh on your CLL,

It gets in there and gives the bastard hell.

Five years’ remission and the beast is back.

It’s in your bones the way the Viet Cong

Poured through their tunnels to the Tet attack,

And what comes next might not last very long.

But let’s see what Ibrutinib can do

To win the war whose battlefield is you.

Ibrutinib, you little cluster-bomb

Of goodness, get in there and do your thing!

All that the bad guys seek is martyrdom:

Their own demise is the death they bring.

They work in cells. There is no high command.

We let you in and then it’s hand to hand.

Should you prevail, we promise you a role

From here on until the natural end.

Just beat them back and it will be a stroll,

Unless you don’t, in which case things might tend

To go bananas in a serious way.

But not yet. Down the hatch. This is today.


Inspirational stuff — and Ibrutinib really is a remarkable drug, a pill rather poisonous goo, showing the way to targeted treatment of leukaemias and other cancers. Only Clive James could make it sound so poetic!