UK

Couple who shone light on children’s cancer after son’s diagnosis are made MBEs

Vicki and James Woodall, from Surrey, founded fundraising appeal George And The Giant Pledge after their son was diagnosed with cancer aged four.

Vicki and James Woodall with their sons George and Alex celebrating five years of George being cancer free
Vicki and James Woodall with their sons George and Alex celebrating five years of George being cancer free

A couple who raised more than £1.5 million to help beat childhood cancer after their son George’s diagnosis have been recognised in the King’s Birthday Honours.

Vicki and James Woodall, from Redhill in Surrey, said each being made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to cancer care and cancer research for children feels “surreal”.

Their youngest son was just four years old when he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancerous tumour on his spine after his parents found a lump on his back.

Following his diagnosis in 2017, George underwent treatment including 14 “gruelling” rounds of chemotherapy and had part of his spine and three muscles from his back removed which left him registered disabled and facing “life-long challenges”.

George Woodall (right) asleep with his brother Alex during George’s cancer treatment in 2017
George Woodall (right) asleep with his brother Alex during George’s cancer treatment in 2017

Mr Woodall, 48, described taking his son to the Royal Marsden hospital in west London during the process of his diagnosis as being “launched into another world”.

The couple decided that no matter the outcome of George’s diagnosis, they wanted to “right the wrong” of childhood cancer and set up a fundraising appeal named George And The Giant Pledge.

Their original goal of raising £100,000 for the Royal Marsden was achieved in two weeks thanks to help from friends, family and their local community.

In 2018, the appeal was renamed the Giant Pledge so that other parents could fundraise in the name of their child and it has raised more than £2.2 million in total through running marathons and organising events including quizzes and crafts evenings.

Despite being originally given a 50% chance of survival, George is now 11 years old and remains cancer free.

Speaking of being made an MBE, Mr Woodall said: “It blows our minds to receive recognition in this way and is so surreal to think that setting what felt like a crazy £100,000 ‘out of reach goal’, let alone an absurd ‘£1 million ambition’ while sharing our family’s childhood cancer journey would ever result in an MBE after our names.”

Mrs Woodall, 46, said: “It feels quite emotional knowing George will soon finish primary school and join his big brother Alex at secondary school – a milestone not all our childhood cancer friends are lucky enough to get to despite doing everything any parent possibly can do.

“George may well now be registered disabled and have life-long challenges following all of his various cancer treatments but the Giant Pledge gives us hope that other families won’t have to suffer or have outdated chemotherapies from the 1960s like George did.”

George Woodall before his cancer treatment started aged 4.
George Woodall before his cancer treatment started aged 4.

On being recognised in the King’s Birthday Honours, she said: “It was never about anything like this.

“In fact all we’ve ever wanted to do was to shine a light on childhood cancer, be sure people knew the signs and symptoms to watch out for and to let people know just how underfunded childhood cancer is in the UK, yet how easily they can each make a difference.

“Public recognition on this scale helps to show how much you can achieve in donating your time, your talent or through sheer tenacity when supporting an initiative like the Giant Pledge and we couldn’t be more grateful to everyone that has helped us along the way.”

The money raised through the Giant Pledge has funded projects including a play specialist at the Royal Marsden to support children with cancer and their families, treatment trials and a paediatric psychologist to help children and young people navigate their treatment.

For more information, visit www.giantpledge.com