Cancer almost killed David Downs two years ago so the title of his new book A Mild Touch of the Cancer is a deliberate understatement.

Followers of New Zealand comedy know Downs has an unorthodox sense of humour that has not deserted him during his recent struggles.

The Whanganui born author, comedian and businessman was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in February 2017 and underwent 12 rounds of unsuccessful chemotherapy.

He documented his experiences with a blog also named A Mild Touch of the Cancer and it attracted more than 100,000 followers.


Asked how he kept it up, Downs said although he was physically wiped out from the treatments, the writing kept him feeling in control.

"I felt pretty helpless but writing down my experiences and how I was feeling about it all gave me a sense that I was still in charge and somehow I managed to make it humorous.

"I didn't expect people to respond as enthusiastically as they did or that it would lead me to the treatment that saved me."

Downs was facing the reality that he had exhausted treatment options and his prognosis was poor when a reader told him about a clinical trial for CAR T-cell therapy in the United States.

Because he had the type of cancer likely to respond to the treatment, he was accepted for the trial.

Downs described his story as having a "fairytale ending" which he wanted to help make possible for others and last year he launched the Down with Cancer Campaign with the aim of raising $1 million to fund a clinical CAR T-cell therapy trial at New Zealand's Malaghan Institute in Wellington.

"We have raised around $200,000 so there's a long way to go and I'll be donating all the proceeds from book sales to the fund and to Leukaemia & Blood Cancer [LBC]."

Downs has re-worked his blog posts into book form and added a lot of background information.


"When I started the blog, I had no idea where it was going and now I'm able to present it as a complete story," he said.

David Downs' book was launched in Auckland.
David Downs' book was launched in Auckland.

The book has guest sections by New Zealand comedians, including Jeremy Corbett, Michele A'Court and Paul Ego, and an introduction by The Amazing Race's Phil Keoghan.

A'Court, a long-time friend of Downs', was MC at the launch of A Mild Touch of the Cancer in Auckland last week.

"She was very funny of course," said Maureen Downs who flew up from Whanganui to attend the launch with her son.

"It was a brilliant occasion and there were people from the Malaghan Institute and LBC as well as friends and supporters."

Maureen said she and husband Ted could not be prouder of their son and his drive to help others get access to the groundbreaking treatment.

Downs, in turn, credits the parents who gave him great confidence and an optimistic attitude as part of his upbringing.

"They had a great sense of adventure and they instilled that in their kids.

"They were very young when they came all the way from Ireland to Whanganui where they didn't really know anybody and they didn't have much when we were growing up but we had everything we needed."

Downs is due to fly to the United States for a blood test at Massachusetts General Hospital next week.

"I'm still part of the clinical trial and have to go for a test every three months.

"It was every month, to begin with, and although I love visiting Boston it is costly and supports my absolute conviction that we need to raise enough money to run a trial in New Zealand."

A Mild Touch of the Cancer is available at Whanganui bookshops and can be purchased online at