The man behind New Zealand's biggest ever cancer petition has died.

Blair Vining - dubbed a legend, a hero and inspiration to many - said his final goodbyes to his wife Melissa and his two daughters Lilly and Della-May at their home in Winton, Southland.

The family say they will "miss him immensely" and "are exceptionally proud that the man they will continue to love forever left the world a better place".

His death comes after a fight like no other.

Advertisement

On a post on Blair Vining's Epic Journey Facebook page, a tribute stated: "To people up and down the country, Blair Vining was an extraordinary man: turning his own tragedy into a battle to ensure better cancer care for all New Zealanders.

"But to those who knew him, Blair Vining is extraordinary for different reasons. He was a loving father, husband, dedicated coach and loyal mate, the South Island's biggest Chiefs supporter, Midlands most capped player and its youngest life member.

"He remained courageous and positive despite staggering odds.

"He was the epitome of a humble Southland man who enjoyed the simple things in life, like farming and rugby, thrust into the spotlight when he discovered the inequitable situation many Southerners like him found themselves in, following his 2018 cancer diagnosis."

The post stressed how he bravely battled the disease - in the process inspiring a nation and leading to major change for cancer patients in New Zealand.

"It became his personal mission to see reform to the way cancer is treated throughout New Zealand. He and his wife Melissa worked tirelessly to make access to cancer care more equal for all Kiwis, presenting a petition of more than 140,000 signatures to set up a national cancer agency to Parliament," the tribute read.

"As a direct result of his campaigning, the Government announced its Cancer Action Plan. The plan included a pledge for an extra $60 million to Pharmac to fund cancer medicines, the establishment of a Cancer Control Agency, and the appointment of a national director of cancer control. Blair and Melissa also drove discussions about the need for a charitable hospital in Southland."

He and his wife Melissa renewed their vows, he set up the Blair Vining Sports Foundation to help local athletes reach their sporting potential, and he "tirelessly" fundraised to send his beloved Central Southland First XV rugby team that he coached on a pre season trip to Australia.

Advertisement

He was also recently nominated for the New Zealand of the Year award.

"The fact Blair managed to tick off so many 'bucket list' items while fighting an aggressive form of bowel cancer is testament to his grit and desire to live life to the fullest, while it remained within his grasp."

Vining was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in October last year when he was just 38.

Initially given just three months to live, he was then told to wait eight weeks for an "urgent appointment" with an oncologist.

This wee tribute is to my beautiful wife as it happens to be her birthday but not just any old birthday it’s her 40th....

Posted by Blair Vining’s Epic Journey on Thursday, 3 October 2019

"We were horrified, this was his life we were talking about," Melissa said.

Refusing to wait until his "due date", Melissa rang every contact she could think of until she tracked down Cancer Society of New Zealand medical director, and top oncologist, Chris Jackson.

Vining was able to start chemotherapy right away and put on the best treatment possible - giving him enough time to renew his wedding vows and savour the time he had left with his two teenage daughters.

Precious father-daughter dance captured at Blair's wedding vows renewal with his youngest Lilly, 12. Photo / Supplied
Precious father-daughter dance captured at Blair's wedding vows renewal with his youngest Lilly, 12. Photo / Supplied

But there was one itch he could let go - a "broken health system".

"If I had waited that eight weeks, then I'd likely already be dead," Vining told the Herald back in January.

Instead of breaking down, Vining stood up to fight with his family and friends backing him every step of the way.

In January, Melissa stood on stage with Blair next to her, in front of hundreds of cancer experts, and looked directly at Health Minister David Clark to tell him he had failed her family.

The rugby fanatic started a Facebook page called "Blair Vining's Epic Journey" which encouraged thousands of New Zealanders to share their story.

He helped the Herald launch a special cancer investigation which revealed that hundreds of cancer sufferers received large taxpayer-funded payouts after being let down by the public health system. More than $15 million has been paid out in the past five years after patients were misdiagnosed, or diagnosed too late.

Then, he led New Zealand's biggest ever cancer petition gathering more than 150,000 signatures from people who backed his calls for an independent agency.

"The agency needs to have independent funding, be free from political interference, and set clear targets that Government and DHBs are accountable for," Vining said.

Vining and his wife Melissa at the Auckland Hospital Oncology ward, listen to the announcement of a new national cancer agency in New Zealand. Photo / File
Vining and his wife Melissa at the Auckland Hospital Oncology ward, listen to the announcement of a new national cancer agency in New Zealand. Photo / File

Though not independent, Vining was able to take a front row seat in the announcement of a national cancer agency in September.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to Vining and Melissa about the announcement of a new national cancer agency. Photo / File
Prime minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to Vining and Melissa about the announcement of a new national cancer agency. Photo / File

By that time, his cancer had spread through his body and he was in a lot of pain.

But he continued to fight to see Lilly's 13th birthday and Melissa's 40th birthday.

Today, New Zealand lost a legend.

Blair and Melissa Vining with their two daughters Lilly, 12, and Della-May, 17, had their world tipped upside down following Blair's deadly cancer diagnosis. Photo / Supplied
Blair and Melissa Vining with their two daughters Lilly, 12, and Della-May, 17, had their world tipped upside down following Blair's deadly cancer diagnosis. Photo / Supplied

Details regarding an opportunity for the public to take part in a memorial service will be released at a later time.