Georgia Cordery was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer in June 2008, the week of her 13th birthday.
Over the next two years while receiving treatment, Georgia focussed her energy on her family, on her friends and on fundraising, launching Georgia’s Teenage Cancer Appeal. Since her death in May 2010 her family and friends have continued to raise money in her memory and GTCA is now part of her legacy.
Sue Cordery, Georgia's mum tells us about Georgia and how her diagnosis impacted their family.
“Georgia was the most amazing daughter, she oozed personality and she brought happiness to everyone around her. She had so much enthusiasm and always lived life to the full. Georgia was a talented sportswoman and excelled in many disciplines. She was national trampoline finalist at the age of 11. But her greatest love was netball, she was goal shooter for her school’s A team and played for a club at weekends.”
The summer of 2008 had been a very busy time and the last month of term had been full on. It was the athletic season, and this was another passion of Georgia’s. She was a strong and competitive athlete. It was around this time that I noticed she seemed unusually tired, having a nap on the sofa after school, which was out of character. I brought it to her attention but she assured me it was just the demanding timetable of work and sport and she was absolutely fine. I was also aware that she had cough. After a few days having seen no improvement, I persuaded her to go to the doctors. He listened to her chest and he assured us everything appeared normal but prescribed a course of antibiotics just to be on the safe side.
A couple of weeks went by, there seemed little change to the cough and the unusual naps on the sofa after school were still noticeable. I also became aware of a couple of bruises on the inside wrist on her right arm. Georgia said it was nothing. She couldn’t remember knocking herself, they didn’t hurt and said not to make a fuss. Apart from this, life for Georgia was normal. School, sport, out with her friends. My only concern was that the cough was hanging around, so I thought it best to get her back to the doctors. It was a struggle getting her to take time out of school, but I insisted and got her back to the GP for another check.
He didn’t seem too concerned. He wasn’t our registered doctor and fairly new to the practice. After scanning over Georgia’s medical history it was clear to him that she was a strong and very healthy young girl. Georgia had never had anything worse than chickenpox or a cold and had only needed 2 days away from school through illness since the age of 4. However noticing the the recent antibiotics hadn’t made a vast improvement, he prescribed a further course and advised we take Georgia for a routine blood test.
On the morning of the test, Georgia insisted we get to the blood clinic at our local hospital early, so she could get straight back to her friends and the place she loved, school. She was a little nervous as we sat in the waiting room. I remember her asking me, “Will it hurt?” and reassuring her, it was just a little scratch and that she will be absolutely fine.
We were seen very quickly and she was back at school by 11am. I can’t remember what I did that day, but I wasn’t too worried about the results. The only thought I had was, maybe she could be anaemic.
Georgia arrived home normal time around 4pm and was sleeping on the sofa when the phone rang. Peter answered the call, It was the hospital. They told us an appointment had been made for Georgia at 9.30 the following morning with a consultant pediatrician. That was all they said.
Fear swept through my body in powerful waves. Why was it so urgent?! What had they found?!. Georgia was still sleeping so Peter went straight to our local surgery and spoke to the GP. He then called the consultant, who he knew well enough to ask some leading questions. He told Peter that abnormalities had shown up in Georgia’s blood that needed investigating. And it was very important that we take her in the next day. He said that worse case scenario, Georgia may have leukemia.
Georgia was furious at having to take more time off school. She thought it was all so unnecessary. We tried to play it down and told her, she would be able to go in later.
When entering the consulting room we were greeted with the words, “Oh my you are beautiful.” It was of course true, Georgia was a beautiful girl, but it was a very strange statement to hear from a medical consultant. He continued to chat quite freely to Georgia, asking her about school and hobbies etc., Then after a brief examination sent her down for a chest X-ray. He told us to bring Georgia back in the morning for a Bone Marrow Aspiration. This is a procedure which is carried out under general anesthetic where they drill a hole in the bottom of the spine and draw out the bone marrow for examining.
I didn’t sleep all night, my head was spinning with worry and fear but I had to keep my emotions together and stay positive. Georgia was so strong and healthy. I kept telling myself that they had made a mistake with the blood tests and everything would be ok.
We arrived back at Queens around 8.00am. Georgia was prepped and I walked with her down to the theatre. The operation went well and she was back in recovery, feeling a little drowsy but still managing one of her beautiful smiles for me. The hematologist told us that she would be back at 1pm with the results.
I kept watching the clock on the wall in Georgia’s room and dreading the words she might say. At 1pm as promised she entered the room, stood at the end of Georgia’s bed and announced “I am sorry the test show that you have CANCER”. It is not leukemia. We will be transferring you tomorrow morning to UCLH (University College London Hospital), the Teenage Cancer Trust ward, where they will carry out more tests. What she said next was a blur.
“My world had just shattered. I felt like a bomb had exploded in my head. I turned to Georgia and felt completely helpless. I was her mum and it was my job to protect her. This was beyond my control. I just hugged her and sobbed.”
The disease was affecting Georgia’s blood, it wasn’t clotting, she needed platelets and lots of them. They wanted her to stay in over night before transferring her the next morning. That didn’t happen, Georgia insisted on going home. So after 3 pints of platelets I drove her home at 1.00 in the morning with, with strict instructions to have her back by 8am the following day.
By lunchtime on Friday 27th June, just 2 days before her 13th birthday we were sitting in the same room that, 10 days later, we were given the news which changed our lives forever. Following a series of further investigations, we were told by a team of experts, that Georgia had a very rare cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. The full diagnosis was Metastatic alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.
Georgia had a tumour behind her right chest wall, attached to her 7th rib, which had spread to her bone marrow. We were advised not to look this up on the internet.
We were led by the the experts about what to do next. Chemotherapy was the advised treatment and Georgia began a six drug program. She was fitted with a PIC line which would direct the chemo straight into the main artery. Watching her receive her first chemo was heartbreaking.
I knew that this was the start of a war with this aggressive disease. Georgia had begun the journey of a fight for her life. We were in the hands of medical experts. All we could do was pray.
Georgia received nine courses of chemo over the next six and a half months. Losing all of her beautiful hair. She was fitted with a fantastic wig styled by Trevor Sorbie and wore it with courage and and determination to carry on her life as normal as possible
She attended school in between chemos and held her place as goal shooter in the netball team. Even went to Cyprus on a team tour.
Georgia suffered some severe side effects to some of the drugs, one proving nearly fatal. Through it all she stayed amazingly strong and determined.
She received her ninth chemo in January 2009. This was to be the last of the main bulk of her treatment. Georgia had been offered a chance to be put forward for a place on a clinical trail for rhabdomyosarcoma, but after being equipped with the full details how the trial was run and the benefits (if any), we decided as a family, that for Georgia, this was not an option.
A maintenance program was designed for Georgia. She was to receive a milder dose of chemo once every three weeks for a maximum of twelve months, or for as long as her body would allow.
It was at this point that we came up with the idea of GTCA. Georgia was embarking on a long and lonely journey. Providing a platform to give Georgia some thing to focus on and also to raise money was just an idea. But through Georgia’s inspiration, determination and courage, became the reality that has helped so many people. The next year was full of ups and downs. We had some really good times, with the fund raising events, Georgia fronting every one. And a wonderful family holiday in Turkey. Georgia was coping well with the ongoing chemo and life for her was as normal as we could have hoped for under the circumstances.
“By the end of November, Georgia’s body could take no more chemo, and all treatment stopped. We now had to wait for God’s fate. We had a Christmas that we knew was possibly our last with Georgia, but somehow we made it perfect.”
By the end of January, Georgia’s disease was starting to fight back. We had been told that this cancer was very aggressive, and although initially reacts to treatment in a positive way. Once treatment stops, it returns with a new armor that is virtually invincible and untreatable. Georgia had signs that the disease was now attacking her brain. Mood swings and slight sight loss. Radiotherapy was our only hope of fulfilling her last dream. A planned ski-ing trip to Spain, where we had spent many happy family ski holidays in the past.
So against all the medical advice, Georgia received 50% of the prescribed Radiotherapy and in the February Half Term we all went ski-ing.
The Radiotherapy seemed to calm the tumour in her head for a while, which brought Georgia back to more like her old self. She continued to attend school when ever she was well enough.
“On the 19th March I had one of my most heart wrenching and proudest experiences. This was to play on the same netball court with Georgia in a game of Mums versus Daughters.”
This was to be Georgia’s last ever game of netball.
Over the next few weeks signs that her disease was spreading were getting harder to ignore. An MRI scan concluded the cancer was ravaging her body. Spreading like a forest fire out of control. Her pain became so intense that, for it to be managed, Georgia needed to be admitted to UCLH. This was her last ever hospital visit. After four days, armed with a cocktail of drugs and infusions I took my daughter home.
I had five days to love and care for Georgia, barely leaving her side. Some moments that are too painful to remember and some so precious I will never forget.
On the morning of Saturday 22nd May, 2010, at her home, surrounded by the people she loved most. Georgia, my beautiful, brave daughter died in my arms.
We lost the most precious gift of all. But as a family, life for us changed way before Georgia’s death,
“Living with a young person that you love and watching them fight this relentless disease, having to face fear and uncertainties day after day, takes courage and strength and at times seemed impossible.”
Sue Cordery’s dedication at the GTCA Ball 2010
Our Wonderful daughter Georgia, most of you present only knew you for the last few years of your very short life. But what a huge impact you have made on them. I would like them to know how it all began.
After 3 attempts at IVF we finally got the news I had been waiting for all my life. I felt like I was floating on a cloud, only to be falling again 3 months later with the fear of a miscarriage. Then shortly after, a test showing there was a high risk you may be downs syndrome. Once again a Downs Marker Scan proved THAT was virtually an impossibility.
The pain of nearly loosing you, drove the need in me to ask Professor Nicholidis your gender. So, ALONE I was told that I was carrying a girl. You and I shared that secret until the day you were born. I would talk to you and tell you all the plans I had for us, and all the wonderful places and people we would see and meet.
You were born at 11.20 on Thursday evening 29th June 1995 bouncing in at 9 lb 13oz. I held you in my arms hardly believing you were mine. The feelings of love that night were nothing I had experienced before or could even begin to describe. It was the beginning of the bond between us that nothing and nobody could ever break.
From your first smile to your first steps you brought so much happiness into our lives. Your Personality was clearly there. Your eyes would sparkle at the wonder of life and your face could light up a darkened room. You were soon turning heads, with your curly hair and infectious smile. On holiday in the south of France photographers would stop us, to ask if they could take pictures of you. One, which stayed in the photo shop window for 2 years. You were already making a mark on others.
Your head was full of questions, wanting the answers to everything in your path. You memorised books from pictures on the pages that were full of words that you couldn’t read but somehow recited them word perfect. You would fill us with pride, when you presented to us spontaneously, little notes and hand made cards of love and kisses, that showed how much you loved us. You would follow me around the house, fearing you might lose me if I went out of sight.
At tumble tots you were soon climbing ladders and balancing the plank with confidence, accomplishing each new task with ease. Gym tots was the start of new doors opening for you. It was there that you got your first taste of the trampoline. We couldn’t get you off. It was clear that you had a natural talent and it soon became a huge part of your life. Later joining Cloud 9, then Team Trampoline Promotions. Winning many competitions and reaching the National Finals.
You started your school life at St. Thomas of Canterbury. Clearly school was to be another passion for you. Your zest for learning was immense, and One year later lead you to the Ursuline Preparatory School. It was here, that along with all the teaching staff, Headed by Pauline Wilson, that gave you the encouragement and opportunities to strive to succeed in everything, to the best of your ability. The love and ethics of the school helped to mold your character, which stayed with you all your life.
Your sporting talents were very soon appreciated, winning the gymnastics cup for excellence in PE. And later leading in the success of the Netball Team as Games Captain, alongside Jane Coffee who later became a very dear friend. Your athleticism shone on the track and cross country courses always giving 110% with nothing left to spare. You were a true team leader, encouraging and motivating the girls to win at all times.
As a little girl we would sometimes walk into town and pass the Brentwood School. You would say, “This is where I want to go when I’m a big girl.” It was always your dream, and that came true. Brentwood school was start of lots of new challenges and friendships. Some of which your shared a bond, that I’m sure will never be broken. You shared a very special friendship with Ciara, Alex, Izzie, Finnella and Frankie, but it was Rosie who was your sole mate, she was the one you shared the most.
You became so close, you had something really special that some people wait a lifetime for and never experience. Especially these past few weeks. The immense impact and realisation of Georgia’s destiny that Rosie witnessed will change her life forever. And I thank you Rosie for the love and strength that you showed, when I know your heart was breaking. You were all a very exceptional group of girls together, that loved life, the company of boys and partying. I find comfort in the knowledge that Georgia has given all of you some wonderful memories to cherish. Keep her close in your hearts and she will be with you always.
The most important thing to Georgia has always been her family. She was never impressed with grandeur, and although we had some lovely holidays, it was home where she was happiest. A quote from a poem that she wrote to us, epitomises this. She wrote:-
This Christmas I want us all together as a family
For us to be united so happily
To share a very special day with very special people
For it all to be so simple.
One of her proudest moments was just recently, being honoured with the role of God Mother to Isabelle Lydia Hutchinson. The youngest member of our very proud family.
The closeness that we all share is what made Georgia’s life so rich and because of that special bond, made discovering Georgia’s cancer so unbelievably painful for all of us. The affect that it had on us, as a family was indescribable. Our lives were completely shattered. We were in the hands of strangers that became the only hope for all our tomorrows.
As we started to crumble into tiny pieces, Georgia was there. She lifted us up, and held us with her strong arms. She became our rock. She gave strength to us all. Watching the way she conducted her life with dignity, along side the grueling chemotherapy. She selflessly hid any fears she may have had, to spare our hearts from breaking. As the months went by she faced challenges in life that most of us will never even glimpse at. She tackled them all with the maturity and courage beyond the realms of human nature.
Georgia was an amazing daughter. She was beautiful inside and out. She was a doer, and an achiever of what she believed in. She and I shared a rare and very special relationship. She trusted me with her life and confided in me with everything. We had no secrets. We thought and would often say the same things. She was like me in so many ways, I almost felt like we were one together, and I know she felt the same. Georgia has been life’s greatest gift to me. She will always be my wonderful daughter.
We cannot begin to describe how much we love you Georgia or how much we will miss you. You filled our life with more than we could ever wish for. Your love, laughter and strength. Above all you taught us some of life’s lessons that will stay with us forever. We will pass these on to Elliot, and he will know you are with him always.
We thank you Georgia from the bottom of our hearts, for your life, your love and for giving us the honour of being your very proud parents. You will be with us forever.
Your are “The Special One”