Debrief: Polly Goddard

Deputy Editor, Stephanie Bagnall talks to an inspiring teen Polly Goddard, a 16-year-old cancer survivor who has raised over £140,000 for charity.

I had the pleasure to visit Polly in her family home in Fleet where she lives with her parents, younger brother and grandmother. Polly kindly met me at the station and walked me to her house. We chatted about school, how our days had been so far and engaged in some general chit chat as we approached her house. Her room, decorated with a sweet plum purple paint, is lined with strings of polaroids containing images of family and friends. She sits on her patchwork covered sofa next to her desk, very neatly arranged with all the stationary a young academic could need.

We start by discussing her initial diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She recounts getting ill and the doctors originally thinking that she had tonsilitis. It was in fact her mum that persisted in saying “this isn’t Polly” and “this isn’t normal”. She explains to me that there had been a lot of cancer in her family in the past and that her mum “knew what was happening when things started to look serious”.

“They sat me down and I was told by a doctor what it was.Then it was straight into the hospital… I had no time to adjust, it was like this is what is happening and off we go.” Polly tells me how she was terrified and completely taken by surprise, “when I thought of cancer before, I thought of the old lady who passed away when she was at the end of her life, not a fresh 11-year-old. I remember thinking that it just can’t be me.”

When I ask her about her first trip to Great Ormond Street she tells me how daunted she initially was. “The incredible work they do goes so far that there’s every sort of doctor under the sun there. I was very insular at first. It made me feel so small.”

Throughout the interview, however, a smile creeps over her face when the renowned hospital is mentioned, as if it’s a place that she feels at home.

On asking her about her treatment, she tells me it was long and intensive. She reels off the extensive list of pills, operations and various treatments that she remembers having to live by religiously.  “It was the classic cancer look that was something I resented.

“I didn’t like people pinpointing me before they knew me.”  She found the treatment grueling mostly because she didn’t have the time to bounce back before the next lot of dosage.

It seemed to frustrate her in that it was limiting her from her full potential rather than the fact that it was painful.

I ask her what sort of things she’s learned from such an experience. Her answer is confident and assured.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that there is always someone worse off than yourself. My best friend James passed away while we were both being treated for different diseases. Losing JaWmes when he was 13 was like gosh, things in my life could be a lot worse than they are.”

Polly goes on to tell me about the effect that it has had on her family, “We are certainly a lot closer as a family now. I was lucky to have such a good bond with them. I spent so much time away from school and away from people of my own age, but I was lucky to have my parents there and I have a closer bond with them than most people I know with their parents. They were the support network I needed and everything worked from that bond outwards.”

We move on to the topic of charities. She recalls the first fundraising that she did for Great Ormond Street – alongside her parents she cut her most of her hair off, partly to avoid seeing her hair fall out in clumps.

She proceeds to tell me that her dad looked like an

egg with his shaved head and giggles at the memory.

“I wondered at the time whether it would be enough or if it was something that people would actually give money for. We raised over seven thousand pound. My family didn’t need anything but I could see that the charity did and it was an immense feeling. It was just so amazing. We came home and we kept raising money and, when I was stronger and a bit better, we went back up to Great Ormond Street and did the big presentation with the massive cheque. It was the first bit of charity work I did. I didn’t fully take it in at the time but now looking back I see how special it is.”

She smiles fondly as she mentions the people there: “I had a consultant, Nick, he was one of the biggest inspirations. The people at the hospital make the best out of a bad situation.”

Above anything else, I was blown away by how much determination such a young girl can possess. For a girl who has been through so much, so young, her confidence doesn’t seem to have been dented at all. She looks me in the eye throughout the interview, showing a level of maturity that is beyond her years.

She goes on to tell me about another fundraiser, Mollyfest. The Kick-Ass Molly campaign raised money for three year old Molly Matthews who needed money to get treatment abroad.

“Helping to organise the event was great because I needed projects to keep me going. I didn’t want to sit and dwell on what was happening, I needed to be getting into stuff. It was certainly difficult on the day of the festival. My mobility wasn’t top notch so maneuvering around was slightly more difficult but still it was something that I was glad I was a part of. We could do something to help so we did. We raised a total of £140,000 from that.”

We chat about these incredible events for a while and the conversation folds into a few different directions

until I ask my final question; What is one piece of life advice you would give to someone?

She took a little while to reply, but then decided on “things happen in life and things will take time, your bubble will burst and life will push us. But at the end of the day, what we put into life will come back around. We will reap what we sow.”

In total, Polly has helped raise an incredible £147,300 for various charities. After Mollyfest, the ‘Kick-Ass Molly’ campaign raised a further £75,000 which makes that a total of £215,000.

Polly obtained two 8’s (one 8 is the equivalent of one A*), seven As and one 6 ( the equivalent of a B) at GCSE. She is now currently studying English Literature, Modern History and Politics at Farnborough Sixth Form College and is doing incredibly well. She aspires to go to university in London and to become a teacher in politics.

I was truly overwhelmed by her warm-heartedness, compassion, strength, and wisdom. It was truly one of the most inspiring interviews I have done and Orbital Magazine wishes Polly every success in the future.