Dunedin mum shares cancer battle

Dunedin Relay for Life ambassador Tamsyn Hayes is pictured with husband Glen McSkimming and...
Dunedin Relay for Life ambassador Tamsyn Hayes is pictured with husband Glen McSkimming and daughter Anja. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
For the past year, Dunedin mum Tamsyn Hayes has been battling an aggressive form of breast cancer, while striving to maintain family life and her career as a policewoman.

Now she is preparing to step up and share her story as Dunedin Relay for Life ambassador, during the 12-hour community fundraising event’s poignant candle-light ceremony in the evening of April 20, at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Ms Hayes is undergoing treatment for stage 3, grade 3 triple-negative breast cancer and is keen to highlight the fact cancer can strike anyone at any age.

The former multiple ironman and triathlon competitor said it was "easy to think that cancer doesn’t happen to fit, young healthy people, but it does".

It has been a tough couple of years for Ms Hayes, her husband Glen McSkimming and their 8-year-old daughter Anja.

As well as dealing with a cancer diagnosis, the family also lost the couple’s second daughter, Aroha, at birth in 2021.

The treatment for the aggressive triple-negative breast cancer involves surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, as well as immunotherapy — for those who can find a way to self-fund it.

"Unfortunately, there are limited treatment options available in New Zealand because the immunotherapy [known as Keytruda] that makes the chemo more effective is not funded by Pharmac," she said.

And it was expensive, costing more than $10,000 "every time you sit in the chair".

Tamsyn Hayes and partner Glen McSkimming with baby Anja taking a break from a training run at St...
Tamsyn Hayes and partner Glen McSkimming with baby Anja taking a break from a training run at St Clair in this 2016 file photo. Photo: ODT Files
She felt very fortunate funds raised through a Givealittle page — set up for her by a friend — had enabled her to access this treatment.

"I have been very lucky to have had so much support from friends and family, as well as from kind strangers, who have helped me to pay for the treatment," she said.

As a result, Ms Hayes has had a 100% response to the chemotherapy — a positive sign.

"I have been having treatment since my cancer was diagnosed in April, 2023, and it has gone very well — I probably couldn’t have had a better outcome, so far."

Another surgery lies ahead, in June, and then it will be a waiting game to see if the cancer returns.

Triple-negative breast cancer has a high rate of recurrence, so it will be a while before she knows if she is out of the woods.

Throughout her treatment, Ms Hayes has worked as much as she could in her frontline police constable role, helped by the kindness and support of her police colleagues.

"I have tried to work throughout my treatment, in a light-duties capacity, although I have had to take a lot of sick leave — sometimes the side effects have left me bedridden for weeks.

"But, I have also been very keen to work as much as I can — and I have really enjoyed it."

Taking on the role of Dunedin Relay for Life ambassador means Ms Hayes will have two very important tasks during the event, which will run 10am-10pm on Saturday, April 20, at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

She will lead the first lap of the relay, dubbed the "celebration lap", which will be a chance for people living with cancer and their carers to shine.

She will also speak at the candlelight ceremony, about 9pm, which will celebrate those fighting cancer, remember those lost to cancer and highlight the work being done to fight back against cancer.

"Since I have been an ambassador for Relay, I’ve had the chance to experience some new things, such as going along to a Look Good Feel Better event and spending time visiting Daffodil House, and I am so impressed by the work they do there.

"In fact, all of the work done by the Cancer Society to support people living with cancer and their families, as well as helping to fund cancer research, is amazing.

"I feel I have been so fortunate to have so much support, which is why I want to give back as much as I can, and help the Cancer Society reach its fundraising goals," she said.

As well as taking on the ambassador duties, Ms Hayes will be part of a friends and family team, called Let’s Get This Party Started.

"It’s great to see the Relay for Life happening again in Dunedin, and I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone there."