Leisa Renwick was moved to tears as her employer spoke of her courageous fight with cancer.

She was diagnosed with stage four melanoma on Mother's Day, 2015. At the time she was told there was nothing doctors could do and sent her home to die.

The mother of three would not accept the death sentence, and today because of her actions more people will live too.

She was awarded The Herald New Zealander of the Year award yesterday at Mount Maunganui College by Tauranga MP Simon Bridges after principal Russell Gordon shared a moving tribute to the brave woman.

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Mr Gordon said he clearly remembered the day he was phoned on May 29, 2015 from another teacher at his school.

"That call rocked my world. I was told in that conversation Leisa Renwick was in hospital, it was unlikely she would leave and they expected her to pass away that weekend.

"You hear that and how do you respond?" he said.

Later that day, he got a call from the same teacher and he thought to himself, "I don't want to answer that" but he did.

"Mrs Renwick was given hours to live and her family was there by her side."

Since that prediction, Mrs Renwick had rewritten the rules.

"In fact that rule book has been ripped up and she has written her own. She sits here today as a survivor which in itself is meritorious. But she also sits here as someone who almost single handedly took on a crown entity, Pharmac, and won.

"Pharmac decides which medicines and pharmaceutical products are subsidies so hospitals and communities can access them. Her fight to have Keytruda be made available to all, not just those who can afford it, is what we celebrate here this morning.

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"Because of that fight there are people living today that would not otherwise. Because of that fight there are people in the future who will live and be able to spend more time with their families, loved ones because of what she has done.

"Ms Renwick sits here today as a champion because of her will to live which defies comprehension. She sits here as a hero."

In the presentation, Mrs Renwick inspired her students.

"We live in a living democracy, and that means a lot more than voting every three years. A democracy means we hold our representatives accountable all the time, every day.

"What I saw, when I saw people dying because they couldn't get access to medication that they could get in Australia, I thought that was wrong. It was a matter of standing up and saying that."

Leisa Renwick was presented The Herald New Zealander of the Year award by Simon Bridges at an assembly at Mount College. Photo/John Borren
Leisa Renwick was presented The Herald New Zealander of the Year award by Simon Bridges at an assembly at Mount College. Photo/John Borren