Gemma Henricksen.
Gemma Henricksen.

Surf Girl entrant raises $17,000 for club

A LOT can happen in nine months - babies can be born and thousands can be raised for a good cause.

And on Saturday night, at Brisbane City Hall, Gemma Henricksen's labour of love came to an end, as she and 12 other Summer Surf Girl entrants gathered for a final gala dinner and closing speech.

The hard-working Bundaberg 24-year-old travelled to Broadbeach, on the Gold Coast, for four days of judging, which she described as "really intense" and not at all like a beauty pageant.

The group took part in mock rescues, set up patrols, taught their skills to multicultural students at the artificial beach at South Bank, in Brisbane, and visited a Westpac rescue helicopter hangar to learn the ins and outs.

The ball was the culmination of everyone's hard work and saw more than $400,00 raised for Surf Life Saving Queensland.

Gemma raised an astounding $17,650, which will go directly to the Bundaberg Surf Life Saving Club.

"The money will be used for rescue equipment and training for us to continue keeping the public safe," Gemma said.

"It was a big commitment but it was worth it in the end."

About 300 people attended the gala, where Gemma was the belle of the ball in a vivid red gown by Lennen. Thirty of her friends and family travelled to support her on the night.

"It was definitely one of the largest cheer squads in the crowd," she joked.

Gemma was second last to give her five-minute speech and admits to "freaking out" a little but nailed it when she got to the podium. She said the journey wasn't always easy but the rewards, for herself and the community, made it worthwhile.

"There were times when it got hard but the club's been really amazing and helped immensely," she said.

Gemma thanked the community and businesses who supported her always the way and donated to the surf club.

Gemma's facing the fight of her life

She spent the weekend battling it out in the surf and on the sand but now Bundaberg lifeguard Gemma Henrickson is facing a different kind of fight.

The 24-year-old has been diagnosed with a very rare form of melanoma that she will begin treatment for today.

Her world was turned upside down three weeks ago when she visited her doctor about a bloated stomach. Thinking it was some kind of food allergy, she walked out of the appointment with the news that two tumours were growing in her bowel and had spread to her liver and her lungs.

It is devastating news for the bubbly young woman who this week was planning to move to the Sunshine Coast with her partner Harry before an overseas trip to Asia ahead of starting a nursing degree at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Undetected, the cancer has progressed to stage 4 - meaning it has spread to other parts of her body - and doctors have recommended a course of immunotherapy - a treatment designed to boost the body's natural defences. She will also begin radiation treatment next week.

If there is a silver lining it's that Gemma won't have to travel out of town for treatment.

Making the decision to go through with her surf girl obligations was a difficult choice, but one Gemma is pleased she made.

"This program has given me a lot of support," she said yesterday.

"It's like a family, it's really nice to be a part of.

"I'd worked so hard, and so many people had worked so hard, I couldn't give up ... I just wanted to be normal.

"All the girls in Surf Life Saving Queensland helped any way they could.

"I'm definitely glad I went through with it."

The news has hit her loved ones, friends and the lifesaving community hard.

"It's hard for me to see them (my family) hurting," she said.

"I was shocked, it was not what I was expecting.

"It doesn't feel real ... I kind of disembody myself from it."

Ironically, she said, the cancer wasn't caused by exposure to the sun, just one of life's cruel turns.

Harry, also 24, has been a pillar of strength for Gemma, quitting his job on the Sunshine Coast and moving back to Bundy to support her.

"He's a good guy," she said of the man she met at school.

But despite the diagnoses, Gemma is remaining positive.

"It's not going to help at all being negative," she said.

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