Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blood the gift of life for girl

Cancer survivor face of donation campaign

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BEING told you have cancer isn't the kind of news any 10-year-old should get.

But that's the diagnosis Sara Knox, now 12, received from doctors, who found a mass in her abdomen that was Burkitt's lymphoma, a rare cancer of the lymph nodes that mostly affects children.

"I didn't really know what it would mean," Sara said Thursday, sitting at a table in Winnipeg's Canadian Blood Services clinic. "It was definitely scary. It was a shock."

Her treatment started immediately and required eight rounds of chemotherapy with multiple blood transfusions.

Two years of treatments later, Sara's cancer is gone -- and she has a message for anyone capable of donating blood.

"I want people to realize that I wouldn't be here without all of these really generous donations," Sara said.

"When you're in the hospital, you meet a lot of people who need blood. It puts a face behind what blood donation is, and what it goes towards. I've met a bunch of kids who are relying on people to donate blood for their life."

Sara is the public face of this year's push by Canadian Blood Services to ensure its supply levels are high enough to last the holiday season.

"We have the same need all year, but we find that during the holidays people are busy or away, so we do want to make sure our inventory levels are constant," said Trisha Bal, Canadian Blood Services' community development co-ordinator.

"Blood products don't have a long shelf life. So if we're closed certain days, like Christmas Day, we have to get more blood."

As Sara toured the clinic during the morning to give thanks to those who were donating, she found a group of three co-workers from a house-restoration firm who had arrived together to donate.

"I think I'm on my sixth time donating," said Jen Andrzejczak. Her colleague in the chair beside her, Martin Lemoine, was making his fourth donation.

Andrzejczak said she was 17 when she made her first donation, going with one of her friends who was too nervous to go alone. She kept coming back because of family members affected by illnesses that required blood transfusions.

"I'm actually really uncomfortable giving blood, so it helps that the staff is so nice here," said Andrzejczak. "I don't like needles... but I just take a deep breath and look the other way."

On most days, the Winnipeg clinic receives about half its donations from such groups of co-workers, said Bal. Through their Partners for Life program, Canadian Blood Services even sends a shuttle to a company's workplace to bring groups to the clinic.

But at this time of year, they need an extra effort from people to donate, and that's where Sara's presence comes in. She said it's fun to be in front of TV cameras, but she knows better than most how serious her message is.

"I want to let people know that their blood is going somewhere," Sara said.

"Because when you come in here, basically you're coming into this room, getting poked with a needle and then you get food and then you get to leave. But really, you're doing so much more than that."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2012 B1

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