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  • Writer's pictureBen Waterworth

Battling emotion to create a lasting legacy

Updated: Oct 31, 2021

A year ago, the Vining family had their world turned upside down.

Winton rugby legend Blair was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in October last year and was given months to live. For his wife Melissa and two daughters Lilly and Della-May, it was the hardest news they would ever hear.

But Blair showed he is a fighter. Since the diagnosis he has become “voice” for those suffering cancer across New Zealand, and a string of bucket list achievements set out by him has kept that fight going.

However, with so much happening in the public eye since his diagnosis, Melissa Vining admits it has been challenging at times for the family to keep their emotions in check.

“In the initial days when he was diagnosed we just wanted to cry in the corner,” she said. “In the last 11 months we’ve had regular conversations between the four of us about the importance of time. We’re very aware every day we have with him is an extra day than we thought we would have.”

“We stop and check regularly about how everyone is feeling and whether we’re all still into this. All three of us Della-May, Lilly and I, we feel that we could all sit down and wait for Blair to die or we can join in and support and get these jobs done to make it better for others and being able to contribute to something positive brings a lot of comfort.”

Mrs Vining said one of the most common questions she is asked about her husband is whether he has always been this passionate about his community, and it’s a question she has no hesitation in answering.

“Blair has always been someone that takes everything in his stride and if there is something he can help with, whether it’s building something for the local school or if it’s coaching the kids’ rugby or netball team, he’s that kind of person. Always puts his hand up and gets in and gets the job done.”

Since creating his bucket list when diagnosed last year, Mr Vining successfully advocated for the Government to introduce an independent national cancer agency in New Zealand, which was announced earlier this month by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

He also introduced the Blair Vining Sports Foundation to help support athletes at Central Southland College and give them the same opportunities as presented to students outside of regional centres across the country.

A charity rugby in January game helped launch the foundation. It was attended by nearly 4000 people and raised more than $100,000.

Another game was played in Queenstown featuring politicians and local identities several months later, with the foundation now selling a range of products to help raise more funds.

His most recent fight has been for the launch of a community charity hospital service in Southland, which has so far received wide support in the region.

Mrs Vining said a meeting held in Invercargill last week was extremely positive, and she couldn’t believe the generosity of medical staff in Southland who were willing to give up their time for the project.

She said it brought her and her husband a “lot of comfort” knowing that Southlanders were behind the idea to help solve the inadequacies in the health care system around cancer.

Mrs Vining said that Blair was currently “very sick”, but said he felt great comfort knowing he was able to use his experience and voice to represent Southlanders and New Zealanders who are battling with the disease.

“He doesn’t see it as he is doing anything special. That’s what is so amazing about him, he sees it as a responsibility to all of those people that are suffering. To be their voice. When people are sick it takes a lot of energy just to focus on their health, and we totally respect [those] who do that. He just feels that he is the voice of many, that he feels like he is doing a job for them.”

This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here

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