Faced with the 'cruelly unfair' Blair Vining makes an impact

Blair Vining celebrates with family and friends at his ‘‘final farewell’’ on Saturday night. Photo: Luisa Girao
Blair Vining celebrates with family and friends at his ‘‘final farewell’’ on Saturday night. Photo: Luisa Girao
EDITORIAL: It is cruelly unfair that it had to be this way, but perhaps the most famous man in Winton was destined for a higher cause.

How did Blair Vining become a household name in such a short space of time? How did a humble husband, father and rugby player from Southland become the face of the battle to treat cancer sufferers better? And why has his case struck such a chord?

Nearly all of us have dealt, or are dealing, with cancer in some form. It is this country's single biggest cause of death, and most New Zealanders will experience cancer either personally or through a family member.

The good news is many people are living longer thanks to screening programmes, detection and treatments. Cancer is also no longer a taboo subject - we talk about it, and we get educated about it.

The bad news is New Zealand still has high rates of cancer - proportionally, the second-worst in the world for new cases according to the Global Burden of Disease study last year - and some of our sufferers face unacceptably long wait times to be seen by medical specialists.

Enter a tall, smiling, classically laconic Southlander to renew the push for serious improvements in the area of cancer treatment.

Blair Vining could have been forgiven for hunkering down and quietly battling through when he received the shocking news last year he had stage four bowel cancer and an estimated eight weeks to live.

At 38, the father of two daughters had been dealt a rough hand. As awful as it sounds, he could have become ''just'' another person battling cancer.

Instead, he chose to lead a public crusade to highlight unfairness in the system - pointing out ''survival can depend on who you are or where you live'' - and lobby for the creation of a national cancer agency to reduce deaths from the disease and improve care for people during treatment.

The latter was a Labour policy when it campaigned in 2017. The Prime Minister has been non-committal in recent times, though some sort of national cancer plan is being developed, and will be awaited with interest.

The Vining family's petition to create the cancer agency has gathered 140,000 signatures, and remains open until Sunday, while a foundation in Blair's name is providing funds for young Southlanders to get sporting opportunities.

In short, Blair Vining is not only fighting to spend more time with his loved ones but is fighting to make life better for others. He is, as National MP Hamish Walker described him at a large and emotional ''final farewell'' in Invercargill at the weekend, one of the ''most selfless'' men people will meet.

His is an ordinary story - just a man, working hard and raising a family and loving his rugby - but there is a distinct sense he has had an extraordinary impact.

Sadly, Blair Vining will probably become one of the 9500 New Zealand people to die from cancer in the next 12 months.

His wife and children will ensure his memory does not quickly fade. The rest of us have an opportunity to take up his cause and do what we can, be it signing a petition or lobbying government or funding new services, to secure a fine man's legacy.

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