Family cherishes special memories

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    IT has been a year of heartache and hope for Melissa Vining, who is about to spend her first new years in 18 years without her soulmate.

    Her late husband, Blair, spent the last year of his life campaigning for better cancer care in New Zealand, and she said it was his positivity and hopes for others which pushed him to each milestone of his epic journey.

    The 39-year-old father of two died in October, almost a year after being diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer.

    Christmas will be one of the first big celebrations since he died the family will spend without him.

    Mrs Vining said, “It’s going to be a really tough day without Blair, because at any celebration Blair is the life of the party and always loved the house full of friends and family.”

    They are hosting a Christmas breakfast for friends and family at their Winton home, and will visit Mr Vining at the cemetery.

    “We could sit here and be sad or we could celebrate how Blair would celebrate, and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”

    While the last year had been hard on the family, Mrs Vining said good memories were made.

    “When you have a limited time left with your soulmate… there was lots of fun and big activities, but equally just being at home and doing our everyday activities with Blair was special.”

    Sitting and despairing on the trauma the family faced was not something Mr Vining endorsed instead the family worked to tick off items on his bucket list, and lived for each day they were given with him.

    His Facebook page which generated nationwide support, Blair Vining’s Epic Journey, was used as a platform to create conversation about under-resourced district health boards.

    More than 140,700 people signed the petition which called for better cancer care and the creation of a national cancer agency. Since the petition was presented, Parliament announced its New Zealand Cancer Action Plan 2019

    Mrs Vining said a lot of people going through cancer and treatment were too vulnerable to speak out, “because Blair felt well enough to speak up, he genuinely felt he was speaking for all those people who were messaging him.

    “What Blair did was make people aware of how bad the system is. We had no idea how the system was broken until Blair got cancer.”

    The journey is not over for the Vinings, with several of their dad and husband’s hopes yet to be realised.

    One of those is the establishment of a charity hospital in Southland; Mrs Vining said a big announcement was expected to be made in January.

    She said she would continue to push for better access to life-extending drugs and to lower the bowel screening age to 50.

    The reason Mr Vining was able to live as good a life as possible during his last year alive was because he was able to access private healthcare.

    “If he had died two months after diagnosis, some of those things would never have been ticked off. Lilly’s bucket list wish was to have her wedding dance with him at our vow renewal and that is something she will never ever be able to get back, so she’s got that special memory.”

    She said experiences like the one her family went through helped to highlight the good in humanity.

    “We just feel the love from the Southland community, through the entirety of Blair’s journey… the positive of it is that we got to see the absolute best of our community.”

    She said he was the best dad, husband and friend. “I don’t think there is one quality that defines Blair. He loved big, he was kind, he role-modelled great values to the kids he coached and to our kids. Just being around him makes you want to be a better person.”

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