Love and support surrounded Dunedin woman Gina Agate-Aitken at the weekend, as 170 friends and family joined her for an early 50th birthday.
Mrs Agate-Aitken, who has terminal cancer, decided to celebrate the milestone two years early, with the encouragement of her husband, Dean Aitken, and her three children, Latisha (20), Anthony (18), and Adriana Mellon (15).
They were joined for the celebration by family and friends from Australia, Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Central Otago and Gore.
The giant party, at Wingatui hall, was full of surprises, including a piper playing Happy Birthday, as Mrs Agate-Aitken made the most of the chance to spend time with her loved ones.
“I had an absolute blast, and stayed up partying until 2am – something I haven’t done for years,” she said.
“It is all about having special times and making good memories for the family.
“Sometimes in life, you can’t wait for things to come to you, you have to make them happen.”
The centrepiece of the party table was a stunning shoe-themed cake, created free of charge for Mrs Agate-Aitken by Tess Williams, of Williams + Co Kitchen, in Mornington.
Ms Williams, who went through treatment for bone cancer herself as a child, was moved by Mrs Agate-Aitken’s story and wanted to support her.
“It was a wonderful gesture for her to make, and the cake was absolutely perfect – I have always been obsessed with shoes,” Mrs Agate-Aitken said.
Gina Agate-Aitken, who worked at Allied Press Ltd in the sales department on-and-off for 31 years, has been battling cholangiocarcinoma – bile duct cancer, for the past three years.
When the rare cancer was diagnosed, she had half of her liver removed and underwent six months of chemotherapy.
Her health improved for a time, and she was able to return to work for five months, until she was told the cancer was back in her liver and had spread to her lungs.
“I lived a healthy life, I ate healthily and didn’t really drink – I was always the sober driver.
“Really, it was just bad luck that I got it.”
To extend her life, Mrs Agate-Aitken has daily chemotherapy treatment for three weeks each month.
“Surprisingly enough, I am coping very well, but I get very tired. Besides that, I try to carry on with life as normally as I can.
“I’m going to keep fighting to be here for as long as I can – I want to enjoy all the time that I can with family.”