Now 15, cancer survivor Jillian Henrichsen learned at an all too early age the harsh realities of life.
Just prior to her second birthday the Summerland girl was diagnosed with a cancer called retinoblastoma.
Although she did lose her right eye, luckily only a single surgery was necessary to remove all of the cancer.
“Because I was so young I really don’t remember much, I have only one eye now but I grew up with that,” said Henrichsen, a Grade 11 student at Summerland Secondary School. “My parents have always been very supportive and they’ve never held anything back -— they told me all my stories and were very clear about what happened to me, but now I have my life.”
While growing up she has spent time at camps with other young people who have or had cancer. She learned one very important fact.
“Getting to know other kids with cancer who wouldn’t have survived without blood made me see with my own eyes how important blood donation really is,” said Henrichsen. “I’ve met tons of kids there who had leukemia and so now some of my really good friends are leukemia survivors and one of the ways they were able to fight the cancer and beat it was blood transfusions.
“One of my good friends had cancer when she was four so it’s not just adults, it’s saving a four year old’s life so she could actually have a life to live.”
It can take eight units a week to help someone battling leukemia and it’s estimated 100,000 new donors annually are needed to meet demand.
Read more: ‘Blood donors saved my child’
Although not able to donate blood herself (donors must be 17 or older) she decided to try and get as many other students as possible to make the trip to Penticton Friday for a Canadian Blood Services donor clinic.
“I figured if I can’t donate I might as well encourage others to. It went well, no one fainted,” she said. “We had 11 people but two couldn’t donate due to low iron, but nine were able to so that was pretty good for the first time.”
How did she persuade other students to take part?
“I told people if you donate you can potentially be saving three lives and so for most people who donated that was enough,” said Henrichsen who one day hopes to become a paediatric oncologist to treat children with cancer and blood diseases.
According to territory manager Gayle Voyer of Canadian Blood Services, recruiting new donors is critical, especially with the ever-increasing need for blood and blood products.
“That’s why the high school program is so important,” said Voyer. “Jillian is a champion at her school. Her age didn’t matter, she just felt it was important and she’s happy to encourage others until she is capable of donating herself.
“When we get a chance to share with students we ask them to look and see if their families have been impacted by someone with heart surgery or a cancer patient who needed blood and by donating this is a way of giving back.”
The next blood donor clinic locally is Nov. 28 at the Penticton Senior’s Drop-In Centre. Appointments are required and can be made online at www.blood.ca/en/blood.