Husband talks about wife taken by breast cancer and the need to push for answers.

Mother-of-three Joanne Martin died of breast cancer aged just 37, but she filled her final days with happiness.

Husband Daryl and their children aged 5, 7 and 9, holidayed with Joanne in Fiji, accompanied by her brother-in-law, radio host Simon Barnett - winner of last year's Dancing with the Stars - and his family.

Daryl said that using a health insurance payout - because Joanne was not expected to live for more than a year - they decided to have some fun.

She took a break from chemotherapy and the family jetted north for a week.

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On return to their home in Taupo, Joanne had to spend several days in hospital and died within weeks, on July 21.

"It's been devastating for the family," said Barnett, whose wife Jodi is Joanne's sister.

"Joanne was just such a light, such a sparkling, vivacious young woman. [She and Daryl] had a beautiful marriage and they had it all before them."

Dying from breast cancer in your 30s is uncommon; each year the disease claims about 20 women in this age group - 3 per cent of the more than 600 female breast cancer deaths a year.

Joanne was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 34.

"She had stopped breastfeeding for about a year," said Daryl, "and she started to have a discharge in her bra".

A nipple discharge can be a very rare sign of cancer.

"She got a biopsy done," said Daryl, "and they said it could be something, a lump or a wart, we don't think it's cancer. Then they looked again and said, yes, cancer, then checked the other breast, which also had something small. She decided to have both breasts removed."

He said the message of his wife's illness was: "If you're not sure, go and see a doctor straight away and ask."

Following chemotherapy and a clear result from lymph node tests, "everything looked pretty good".

Simon Barnett
Simon Barnett

But, last October, a new lump appeared on Joanne's liver, a secondary breast-cancer tumour, and more in a lung. They were inoperable.

Daryl is glad Joanne could discuss the last part of her life as it unfolded.

"That was great. The first conversation was hard but it became easier."

Daryl said Joanne's loss had been tough.

"There are definitely really hard bits when I console my kids and tell them Mum's in heaven looking down at us.

"I get comfort from it myself."