For someone so sick, Tracey Pay was so full of life.

Sadly, that life has now ended.

The 49-year-old Tauranga mother-of-two lost her long-fought battle with cancer on January 9. The vivacious campaigner will be farewelled at an open funeral service on Monday . Strict orders apply – fairy lights and candles on her coffin please. And don't even think about wearing black.

Tracey knew she was going to die. But she wasn't letting that define her. She was about to turn 50 in July and had been planning the party.


"If anything, Tracey said 'live life while you've got it – to the full'," ex-husband Robert Pay says.

And she did.

Whether it was campervan adventures with English bulldog Henry, or drumming up support for local breast cancer support services, the gregarious hockey-mum had become a well-loved symbol of hope for people and families touched by The Big C.

Robert Pay with sons Charlie, 13, and George, 17, plus Henry the dog. The Pays will celebrate the life of Tracey Pay on Monday after she lost her battle with cancer. Photo / George Novak
Robert Pay with sons Charlie, 13, and George, 17, plus Henry the dog. The Pays will celebrate the life of Tracey Pay on Monday after she lost her battle with cancer. Photo / George Novak

During Tracey's cancer journey she fought for greater access to life-prolonging drugs like Kadcycla, writing to MPs and setting up a Givealittle page. Tracey desperately wanted to stay alive long enough to see her young boys grow into young men. And she nearly got there.

George is now 17 and sports a faint moustache and Charlie is about to turn 14 in March. They were 10 and 7 when in June 2012, their working, active, single mum was first diagnosed with breast cancer.

As one of six siblings, including three sisters, there was no history of breast cancer in Tracey's family but she didn't muck about. The UK expat had a double mastectomy and fought on, eventually enjoying a year's remission before the cancer came back in April 2015. And it was aggressive.

Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer - also known as advanced breast cancer - spread to Tracey's spine, sternum, bones, hip and lungs. By November it spread to her brain, the place she feared most, Robert says.

"It was almost like she could accept all the other stuff but that, she'd done a lot of research."


Having been given notice on her rental and unsure of future commitments, Tracey and Henry the dog moved in with Robert - eight years after the couple separated. She took his bed while he slept on the couch.

"We were separated but we still cared for each other."

Radiation treatment was successful in shrinking the brain tumours but swelling continued.

"The week before [she died] she felt really good. She even told the doctor how good she was feeling," Robert says.

Days later, a headache came. It never left.

A toothache prompted a dentist appointment on January 8 but she became sick on the way home. George took her to hospital that night, where she was admitted and treated but she deteriorated quickly. Tracey lasted until just after lunchtime the next day.

"The doctors said she had lost cognitive [function] but when we were talking to her we saw tears. We think she could hear us but couldn't do anything."

Robert says, after all of these years, she just couldn't fight anymore.

"The whole time she's been fighting. Over the past seven years, she's been this incredible, really strong fighter, fighting the cancer but, I think, in the end, she had enough.

"I think she inspired a lot of people, with her strength and positivity."

In the living room they shared with both parents in Tracey's last days, the boys mull over their memories.

George recalls seeing her on the sidelines of his hockey matches. At 17, George represents the Tauranga under-18 squad. Charlie, the under-15s. Their biggest fan – their mum.

"When we were younger she used to cheer (from the sidelines) but when we got older, if she would yell, I would end up getting carded. So mum stopped being loud," George says fondly.

Charlie smiles and nods in agreement.

"The boys were really Tracey's life, and she was just go, go, go, go," Robert says.

"That's how she dealt with it. She kept busy."

Robert describes her as "bubbly, loud, full on and outgoing" - right to the very end.

He confesses he doesn't like to show emotion but tears well as he talks.

"I used to be hard ... But now ... Tracey got hard and very strong. She had to really, with the cancer. Now, I'm the big softie."

Robert says Henry has been wandering around the home looking for his mum. The dog was Tracey's number one companion.

"She took him everywhere she went."

Tracey Pay with a coffee cocktail. Photo / supplied
Tracey Pay with a coffee cocktail. Photo / supplied

Since Tracey's death, the Pays' home has been bustling with visitors. Family from the Pays' native United Kingdom are expected to arrive today and members of breast cancer support group Shocking Pink are descending from all over New Zealand for Monday's service.

Robert says the funeral service at Olive Tree Cottage will be open because "we don't really know how many people will come".

"She had so many friends, so many. I don't think we know them all."

Robert says about 35 to 40 breast cancer sisters were planning on wearing hot pink and forming a parade for Tracey. People are asked to wear cheerful clothing.

"That was very much Tracey," Robert says.

A private cremation will follow the service.

"She will be missed by many people."