Former All Black Stephen Donald says signing dying dad Blair Vining's petition to drastically better the care of New Zealanders battling cancer was a "no-brainer".

Donald was among the 650 New Zealanders who are gathered in Invercargill to join Vining as he handed over a petition to National's Michael Woodhouse.

Speaking to the Herald, the rugby legend opened up about a friend who had lost their mum to breast cancer and said he wouldn't wish it upon anyone.

"I'm lucky I haven't had any of my immediate family get cancer but I've had plenty of mates' families go through it and seeing their pain is pretty awful," Donald said.


He said he didn't think it was the health professionals' fault but it felt like they were missing a coach.

Former All Black Stephen Donald turned up to Blair Vining's Final Farewell to support the rugby fan's petition for a National Cancer Agency. Photo / Emma Russell
Former All Black Stephen Donald turned up to Blair Vining's Final Farewell to support the rugby fan's petition for a National Cancer Agency. Photo / Emma Russell

All Black Anton Lienert-Brown and sevens player Marty McKenzie also spoke to the Herald about family members they'd lost or had battle cancer.

McKenzie said he'd lost both his grandmothers to cancer.

"We were pretty close, so yeah, it was hard but it's incredible what Blair and Melissa are doing."

Brown said his uncle was battling cancer - "it's pretty cruel".

Vining - with his wife Melissa and their daughters Lilly and Della-May - are the backbone of the petition, that has received more than 130,000 signatures, calling on the Government to fund a national cancer agency.

"Every New Zealander should have the right to the best treatment regardless of money, age, ethnicity, and location," Melissa said.

They said the agency needed to run independent of political interference to hold District Health Boards and medical professionals to account.


The rugby fanatic dad, coach and community hero has been told he has just weeks to live.

He said this year they had been paying about $35,000 a month to extend his life while both Melissa and Blair have had to stop working.

This includes medication that was not funded, and due to a loophole in their private health insurance could not be covered, as well as travel and accommodation to get treatment three hours' drive away because it was not available in their home town - Winton.

Dying father speaks out about failing health system

Despite their hardship, they counted themselves as lucky - "many families don't have support from others and financial backing and my heart aches for them," Melissa said.

Petition of Blair Vining: Better Cancer Care for All New Zealanders

Hey Fellow NZers, I have asked a lot from you in recent times, I need one more thing from you all to help me tick off my bucket list. Please share this post and sign the petition link below to help create better cancer control and care for all NZers, NO MORE penalties by postcode for cancer patients, NO MORE misdiagnosis, NO MORE unacceptable waits, NO MORE expensive non-funded treatments. We need a Cancer Agency to lead cancer control in NZ. It is too late for me but if we all work together we can get the Minister of Health to make cancer control and care a priority. CLICK to sign: Takes less than 30 secs - name & email

Posted by Blair Vining’s Epic Journey on Monday, 6 May 2019

At 8.30 tonight the petition was going to be handed to National Party's health leader Michael Woodhouse and Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker to present at Parliament.

Throughout the night the audience would also hear from cancer victims sharing their heartache, and medical experts on what needs to change.

As the event was also a "final farewell" for Vining - a haka would be performed for him and tributes would be heard from friends and family.

This comes after a Herald investigation revealed how 800 New Zealanders battling cancer could be saved each year.

In the coming days, Health Minister David Clark is due to present the Government's plan to tackle cancer.