Timothy Spall health: Actor asked ‘am I going to die?’ after ‘aggressive’ cancer diagnosis

Timothy Spall shows off incredible weight loss on red carpet

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The 64-year-old actor shocked fans after dramatic weight loss transformed the way the actor looked. Revealing that he wanted to completely change his lifestyle and lose weight after growing tired of being on the “fringes” of other people’s movies.The star’s new lease of life meant that he was only going to agree to take part in projects that were “irresistible” to him. Another event that occurred when the actor was 39 leading to a close brush with death, also gave Timothy a newfound perspective on his life.

Just as the star was about to promote the 1996 Mike Leigh film Secrets & Lies at the Cannes Film Festival, he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Reflecting on that period in his life on The Graham Norton Show, the star said: “I was diagnosed with leukaemia the day I was supposed to go to Cannes, and when I saw everyone coming down the red carpet I was having my first chemo stuck directly to my heart when I was watching this all going on.

“It was nice because they were winning prizes while I was sort of doing an impersonation of not trying to peg it which I valiantly managed to achieve.”

At the time and with his future uncertain, the actor said that he found himself in a state of profundity, viewing life with a great depth of intensity, quality and emotion.

“When you’re in a state of not knowing whether you’re going to live or die or not, you’re in a state of profundity,” Timothy continued.

“So I remember going out to the park in between treatments and looking at a tree and for the first time really thinking what an amazing thing it was.

“And for about 10 minutes, I thought, ‘That is a really nice tree.’ And then after a while I did it again, and after a while I thought, ‘You know, this profundity thing is a bit overrated.’”

The Mayo Clinic explains that leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system. There are various types of the condition, with some more common in children and others in adults.

Timothy was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) which refers to the quick and aggressive nature of the condition, and the type of white blood cells that the condition affects.

The two main types of white blood cells affected by acute leukaemia include:
Lymphocytes – which fight viral infections
Myeloid cells – which do slightly different things like fighting bacterial infections, defending the body against parasites and preventing the spread of tissue damage.

Due to the aggression of which acute leukaemia strikes, symptoms develop quickly over a few weeks, and can become worse over time.

These symptoms can include:

  • Looking pale or “washed out”
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Breathlessness
  • Frequent infections
  • Unusual and frequent bruising or bleeding, such as bleeding gums or nosebleeds
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Excessive sweating, especially at night
  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Fever or chills.

In Timothy’s case, he noticed that he was becoming increasingly tired all of the time and mysterious bruises were appearing all over his body. When he finally visited the doctor he was shocked to discover that he had purple and red patches inside of his mouth.

With only 3,100 people diagnosed with AML each year in the UK it is classed as a rare disease, with most individuals over the age of 75 when they are diagnosed, making Timothy’s diagnosis at the age of 36 extremely uncommon.

Treatment for AML needs to begin as soon as possible after diagnosis as the disease can spread and worsen quickly.

As Timothy previously mentioned, chemotherapy is the main treatment for AML. The therapy is used to kill as many leukaemia cells in your body as possible and reduce the risk of individuals relapsing and the condition returning.

“I asked the doctor two questions. I said, ‘Am I going to die?’ He said ‘No, no. They can do marvellous things these days,’” Timothy continued to explain.

“The other question was, ‘Will it mess up my career?’”

Luckily for the actor, within three months and after just two courses of chemotherapy, he was given the all-clear and in remission.

Timothy added: “When you become seriously ill you go off into paranoia. I hated that Shane was watching me turn into this old man with no hair. I felt like I was imposing this decline on her, and that’s why I felt so guilty about it.

“So when I got better and started being petty and snapping at the people I loved and shouting at people in traffic jams and being ridiculous, funny and scatological, I knew I was getting better. Because when you’re dying you tend to be profound. So never fear being a petty fool. It means you ain’t dying.”

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