Joel had a brain tumour aged six and the whole family were supported through it by CLIC Sargent. Now aged 11, he's pursuing his dream of becoming an actor and has just appeared as a zombie in the Hollywood film The Girl with All the Gifts. We chatted to Joel and his dad Jason about working in film, and coping with cancer.
"I went to two auditions to get my part in the film. The people there told us what to do, and I had to crawl around on the floor and growl, acting like a wild animal!
Being a 'hungry'
"When I got the news that I had been chosen for a part I felt really excited because I’d never been in a film before!
"The film set was really cool, it looked like there had been a zombie invasion because everything looked abandoned. But it was in an old shopping centre in Stoke-on-Trent and some of it was filmed in Solihull near to where I live.
"I played a 'hungry' called T. Shirt boy and I had to wear a big shirt with a ‘T’ written on the front. When we were filming I had half-an-hour of make-up each day and then they did my hair for half-an-hour, and I had a birds-skull put in it.
"It is a scary film and you have to be 15 to watch it at the cinema so I haven’t seen it yet.
"I didn’t get scared on the set. But one day we were filming late at night with an actress called Glenn Close, and I got tired and cold and felt faint so I had to have a blanket put on me and a hot chocolate to warm up.
"Glenn Close is a Hollywood star and she’s been nominated six times for an Oscar and she’s really nice. One day she bought my dad and all the other parents of the children playing the hungries an ice cream. I met Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine too who are both famous actors.
"When I was six I had a brain tumour and I was really sick. I don’t remember much about it now. Just that it made me sad because I had some lines put in my chest for my medicine which meant I couldn’t go swimming, and I really like swimming.
"I would say to children who are having cancer treatment now to never stop fighting.
"I have a scholarship to a school now where they do lots of performing arts. Before that I went to a drama club every Saturday – which is where I found out about the auditions for the film.
"When I grow up I would like to be an actor and the next James Bond! Or in action films… or I might open a cake shop called Joel’s cakes and shakes.
Our world just fell apart
Joel's dad Jason says:
"Five years ago I noticed that Joel had a squint but I wasn’t too worried to begin with as I had had a squint when I was younger too. But just after Christmas, the day he was meant to go back to school, he was sick in the morning and was lying on the settee looking really unwell.
"The scan showed that he had a medulloblastoma brain tumour the size of a golf ball, and our world just fell apart.
"It’s all a bit of a blur now, but I remember he was admitted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital and was operated on the next morning for 9 ½ hours. Then he had chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
CLIC Sargent team
"The CLIC Sargent team at the hospital helped us a great deal. We were introduced to our CLIC Sargent Social Worker on the ward, and she gave us a grant of £170 which was a big help as we were having trouble paying for the car parking at first - it was about £10 a day, an absolute fortune. Eating at the hospital got really expensive too, you are effectively eating out the whole time.
"My wife [Louise] was at the hospital the whole time with Joel, and she was mentally exhausted. Whereas I would go to look after our daughter at home, or dropped her off at her nans. So that extra support for Louise when I couldn’t be there really helped.
Back to school
"A while into treatment our Social Worker suggested sending Joel back to school. That was the last thing on our minds at that point at a time when we weren’t sure if he would even survive the treatment.
"But he was able to, and it helped him keep up with his education. We probably wouldn’t have pushed him back to school if she hadn’t suggested it but it was the best thing.
"He started to go the Pauline Quirke Academy of Performing Arts on a Saturday, which is where he found out about the auditions for the film.
Being on set with Joel
"Being with Joel on the set was great and he wasn’t fazed by anything at all. I remember at the first read through Joel was sat next to the director opposite Glenn Close and he was just flicking through the script!
"Joel has been through a lot, and we're all so proud of him and what he’s achieved and we feel really positive about his future."
Info and support
CLIC Sargent provides a comprehensive range of information and support for parents, children and young people affected by cancer. You can also find out more about the services we provide and how we can help.
For more information or images please call our Media and PR team on +44 (0)20 8752 2812 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
About cancer in children and young people
Every day, 10 children and young people in the UK hear the shocking news they have cancer. Treatment normally starts immediately, is often given many miles from home and can last for up to three years. Although survival rates are over 80%, cancer remains the single largest cause of death from disease in children and young people in the UK.
About CLIC Sargent
CLIC Sargent is the UK’s leading cancer charity for children and young people, and their families. We provide clinical, practical and emotional support to help them cope with cancer and get the most out of life.
Note to sub editors
Please note that the name ‘CLIC Sargent’ should not be abbreviated to CLIC, and that the word ‘CLIC’ should always appear in capitals, as above.